Alarmed at rising death toll in Gaza, UN rights chief appeals to all sides to protect civilians

11 July 2014 – Voicing alarm at the Israeli military operations resulting in the killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, as well as the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, the United Nations human rights chief today appealed to all sides to abide by their obligations to protect civilians.

“Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been down this road before, and it has led only to death, destruction, distrust and a painful prolongation of the conflict,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.

“This time around, once again, civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict. I urge all sides to steadfastly respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law to protect civilians.”

According to the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR), 88 Palestinians, including at least 21 children and 11 women, have been killed in Gaza, as of late Thursday, as a result of Israeli strikes since the beginning of “Operation Protective Edge” on Tuesday night.

Reports suggest that hundreds more have been injured. Israeli media reports over 800 strikes since the operation began, with 60 on the morning of 10 July alone, says OHCHR.

Reports also indicate that from the start of the latest Israeli military operation to mid-day on 10 July, Palestinian armed groups have fired a total of 809 rockets and 61 mortars. Media reports indicate that, as of mid-day on 10 July, nine Israeli civilians sustained injuries while fleeing to shelters.

This latest flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence comes in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in late June and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem last week.

UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have warned of the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, and appealed for maximum restraint by all sides. “It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a cease-fire understanding,” he told a meeting of the Security Council yesterday.

Ms. Pillay warned in particular that attacks must not be directed against civilians or civilian objects, nor should military assets be located in densely populated areas or attacks be launched from such areas.

“For its part, the Government of Israel must take all possible measures to ensure full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, during the conduct of hostilities, as required by international humanitarian law. In all circumstances, they must avoid targeting civilians,” she said.

“However, we have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

OHCHR noted that the targeting of civilian homes is a violation of international humanitarian law unless the homes are being used for military purposes. In case of doubt, buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets.

Even where a home is identified as being used for military purposes, any attack “must be proportionate, offer a definite military advantage in the prevailing circumstances at the time, and precautions must be taken,” it added.

Ms. Pillay voiced deep concern about the prospect of a ground offensive and strongly echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire.

“It is high time that leaders on all sides abandon their poisonous rhetoric and deadly tit-for-tat behaviour in favour of a peaceful resolution to this impasse.”

11 July 2014

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