UN rights chief urges probe into Gaza killings

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

3 March 2008 – The top United Nations human rights official, alarmed by the recent violence in Gaza and Israel, has called for an investigation into the reported killing of dozens of civilians, including children, by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour condemned the IDF's “disproportionate use of force,” in a statement issued today in Geneva.

“Israel, as the occupying power, bears a particular responsibility under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and civilian installations in Gaza,” the statement added.

She called on the Israeli Government “to conduct impartial investigations into the killings of civilians, make the findings public and hold any perpetrators accountable.”

Ms. Arbour also strongly condemned the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilian targets, stressing that they are in clear violation of international humanitarian law and “those responsible must be held to account.”

The UN estimates that at least 59 Palestinians – including 39 civilians – were killed last Saturday in Gaza and hundreds more injured. In addition, two Israeli soldiers are reported to have been killed in the fighting and an Israeli civilian was killed in Sderot following a rocket attack and at least five other civilians were injured in Ashkelon.

Both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council – which met in emergency session over the weekend – have condemned the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has confirmed that Israel has pulled back its ground forces from Gaza today.

In addition, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has resumed its activities to deliver assistance in Gaza, and reopen the schools that were closed there. In the north of Gaza, attendance at UNRWA schools was reported to be zero, while elsewhere in the Strip it was between 40 and 65 per cent.

At the same time, UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd noted problems for Gaza hospitals. “It’s the medical sector that’s been suffering the most already, with the hospitals having their problems with having enough medicines and equipment and spare parts for equipment,” she said in an interview with UN Radio.

For her part, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, expressed profound concern about the upsurge in violence in the Gaza Strip, denouncing both the use of force by the IDF and the continued rocket attacks into Israel.

“I am profoundly disappointed to see that once again children and their families are becoming targets for military activities,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. “The need for security must not ignore humanitarian concerns.”

The Special Representative also voiced her concern over the participation of children in political activities, which, she said, can expose them to further violence, after several hundred children from 20 schools took part in a Hizbollah-organized demonstration outside UN headquarters in Beirut.

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