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UN rights council mulling probe into Israel-Gaza war, ‘root causes’

Draft text backed by Organization of Islamic Cooperation calls for investigation into alleged crimes in Gaza and Jerusalem as well as ‘underlying discrimination and repression’

Palestinian volunteers sweep dust in front of a building destroyed during the latest round of fighting, in Gaza City's Rimal district on May 25, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinian volunteers sweep dust in front of a building destroyed during the latest round of fighting, in Gaza City's Rimal district on May 25, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The UN Human Rights Council will consider launching a broad, international investigation into abuses in the latest Gaza conflict and also into “systematic” abuses, according to a proposal tabled Tuesday.

The draft resolution will be discussed during a special session of the council Thursday, requested amid 11 days of deadly violence between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza this month.

The text, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, calls for the UN’s top rights body to “urgently establish an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry… in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel.”

The investigators, the text said, should probe “all alleged violations and abuses” of international law linked to the tensions that sparked the latest violence.

Israel and Hamas waged 11 days of intense conflict this month, which included Israeli air and artillery strikes and Gazan rocket fire.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and teens, with 1,910 people wounded. It does not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. The Israeli military maintained that it killed some 225 terrorist operatives and that the Palestinian death toll was in fact considerably higher than was reported. It said some of the civilian fatalities were caused by Hamas rockets falling short and landing in the Strip.

Palestinians pray by the bodies of members of the Ezz-Al Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terror group who died in Israeli bombardment of a tunnel, during their funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 21, 2021. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Thirteen people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.

Lia Tal, 40, rushes with her children and partner to take shelter as a siren sounds a warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, Israel, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)

During the fighting, outgoing International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the court may look into the fighting as part of its current probe into alleged war crimes in the region, which date back to the events leading up to the last major Gaza conflict in 2014.

The Human Rights Council draft text goes far beyond the most recent conflict, also calling for investigators to probe “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity.”

The investigation should focus on establishing facts and gather evidence and other material that could be used in legal proceedings, and as far as possible should identify perpetrators to ensure they are held accountable, it said.

“Long-standing and systemic impunity for international law violations has thwarted justice, created a protection crisis and undermined all efforts to achieve a just and peaceful solution,” the draft text said.

It remains unclear whether there will be enough support at the Human Rights Council to pass the resolution.

Twenty of the council’s 47 members were among the 66 countries that backed holding Thursday’s special session, which was requested by Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority.

The rights council holds three regular sessions each year, but can hold special sessions if at least a third of members support the idea.

Illustrative: Delegates arrive on the assembly hall of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Thursday will mark the 30th extraordinary meeting of the United Nations’ top rights body since its creation 15 years ago, and it will be the ninth focused on Israel.

When the special session was announced last week, Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, urged member states to oppose it.

A television screen at the UN Human Rights Council shows how countries voted on a resolution approving an investigation into Israel’s handling of deadly clashes on the Gaza border, on May 18, 2018. (Foreign Ministry)

“The convening of yet another special session by the Human Rights Council targeting Israel is testament to the clear anti-Israeli agenda of this body,” she said on Twitter.

Israel is the only country that is systematically discussed at every regular council session, with a dedicated special agenda item.

The standing agenda item and body’s overall anti-Israel stance were among the main reasons that the United States under former president Donald Trump decided to leave the council.

His successor Joe Biden has returned the United States to the fold as an observer, with an eye on membership, but his administration remains deeply critical of the council’s “disproportionate focus on Israel.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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