Council demands release of hostages, end of Gaza blockade

UN rights council calls for arms embargo on Israel, citing ‘risk of genocide’

In 28-6 vote, Geneva body raises alarm over alleged war crimes in Gaza; US, Germany, Argentina, Bulgaria, Malawi, Paraguay oppose measure, which Israeli envoy pans as ‘distorted’

A Palestinian man ferries water at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 4, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A Palestinian man ferries water at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 4, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday adopted a resolution calling for Israel to be held accountable for what it said were possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip. Israel dismissed it as a “distorted text.”

The resolution — which passed with 28 of the council’s 47 member states voting in favor, six opposed and 13 abstaining — marked the first time the UN’s top rights body has taken a position on the bloodiest-ever war in the Palestinian territory.

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, slammed the resolution as “a stain for the Human Rights Council and for the UN as a whole.”

She accused the Council of having “long abandoned the Israeli people and long defended Hamas.”

The strongly worded text called on countries to “cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel… to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights.”

It stressed that the International Court of Justice ruled in January “that there is a plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza. Lawyers for Israel denied the allegations of deliberately causing humanitarian suffering in the enclave, highlighting Israeli efforts to protect civilians, but noting the difficulty of preventing such deaths while Hamas terrorists embed themselves within civilian areas.

File: Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Meirav Eilon Shahar (R) delivers a speech at the 55th session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland, on February 29, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Friday’s resolution, which was brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of all Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member states except Albania, also called for “an immediate ceasefire” and “for immediate emergency humanitarian access and assistance.”

‘Stop this genocide’

“We need you all to wake up and stop this genocide, a genocide televised around the world,” Palestinian Liberation Organization Ambassador Ibrahim Mohammad Khraishi told the council before the vote.

Shahar meanwhile told council members ahead of the vote: “According to the resolution before you today, Israel has no right to protect its people, while Hamas has every right to murder and torture innocent Israelis.”

“A vote [for] ‘Yes’ is a vote for Hamas,” she added.

Key ally Washington heeded Israel’s call to vote no, as did Germany, Argentina, Bulgaria, Malawi and Paraguay.

US Ambassador Michele Taylor agreed that “far too many civilians have been killed in this conflict and that every civilian death is a tragedy,” acknowledging that “Israel has not done enough to mitigate civilian harm.”

But she said Washington could not support the text, which she said contained “many problematic elements,” including its failure to specifically condemn Hamas and its October 7 massacre.

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council Ibrahim Mohammad Khraishi gestures during the 55th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 29, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The war erupted on October 7 when thousands of terrorists burst across the border and rampaged through southern communities under the cover of 3,000 rockets, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 hostages to the Gaza Strip.

The IDF launched a grinding offensive to eliminate the Hamas terror group, which rules the enclave, and free the hostages. Hamas claims 33,000 Gazans have been killed, an unverifiable figure that does not distinguish between gunmen and civilians; Israel says it has killed 13,000 gunmen; over 250 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Friday’s vote came after the UN Security Council in New York last week also passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire, thanks to an abstention from Washington.

Hamas not mentioned

While the Rights Council resolution did not name Hamas, it did condemn the firing of rockets at Israeli civilian areas and demanded “the immediate release of all remaining hostages.”

It repeatedly named Israel, demanding that the country end its military rule of all Palestinian territories and “immediately lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip and all other forms of collective punishment.”

The text, which was revised late on Thursday, removing several references to genocide, continued to express “grave concern at statements by Israeli officials amounting to incitement to genocide.”

And it urged countries to “prevent the continued forcible transfer of Palestinians within and from Gaza.”

It warned in particular “against any large-scale military operations in the city of Rafah” in the south of the densely populated Gaza Strip, where well over one million civilians are sheltering, warning of “devastating humanitarian consequences.”

Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with International Humanitarian Aid entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli officials say an offensive in Rafah is necessary to eliminate Hamas. They say civilians will be evacuated from the city before an assault begins, but have not specified where they are meant to go.

The resolution also condemned “the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in Gaza,” where the UN has warned that famine is looming.

Israel blames the ailing humanitarian situation on aid agencies’ failure to distribute supplies, and on Hamas and armed groups who have looted trucks entering Gaza. The agencies say their work has become far more difficult amid the fighting and a lack of security for aid convoys.

The UN text insisted on the “imperative of credible, timely and comprehensive accountability for all violations of international law” in the Strip.

It called on UN war crimes investigators — tasked with probing the rights situation in the Palestinian territories even before October 7 — to look into all “direct and indirect transfer or sale of arms, munitions, parts, components and dual use items to Israel… and “analyze the legal consequences of these transfers.”

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