In Gaza Strip, UN human rights chief decries ‘massive’ violations against civilians

20 November 2006 –

The top United Nations human rights official said today that “massive” violations against civilians had taken place in the Gaza Strip as she began a five-day tour of the region following Israel’s deadly assault on the occupied Palestinian territory earlier this month.

Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, toured the northern Gazan town of Beit Hanoun, where 19 Palestinians were killed and some 60 others injured earlier this month when the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) shelled a residential area.

Ms. Arbour told journalists that an independent, credible and thorough inquiry was needed to determine where responsibility lies for the deaths in Beit Hanoun, which occurred on 8 November.

At least 82 Palestinians have been killed since the IDF began its latest offensive in the Gaza Strip near the end of last month and one Israeli woman was killed last week when a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza struck the town of Sderot in southern Israel.

The High Commissioner told journalists that the lack of accountability for human rights in Gaza leaves locals with no one to turn to when there is a breach.

“The call for protection has to be answered. We cannot continue to see civilians, who are not the authors of their own misfortune, suffer to the extent of what I see here,” she said.

Ms. Arbour also held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, human rights defenders and other civil society representatives, and she received briefings from UN staff working in the Gaza Strip. Tomorrow she is scheduled to visit Sderot.

Stressing that the profound sense of deprivation in the Gaza Strip only becomes truly evident during a visit to the territory, she added that she was told by many Palestinians during the day of their feeling of a complete sense of abandonment.

Ms. Arbour’s visit began days after the General Assembly passed a resolution deploring Israel’s recent shelling of Gaza and calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

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