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Israel, US boycott UN human rights inquiry on Gaza, West Bank

The US and Israel have boycotted a UN Human Rights Council session on the Palestinian territories. The council is probing a 50-day war in Gaza that killed more than 2,200 people, mostly Palestinian civilians.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s incoming chairperson said Israel had continued to bar access to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and that investigators need more time to finish their report.

“The commission has done its utmost to obtain access to Israel and the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” UN Human Rights Council Chairwoman Mary McGowan Davis said on Monday. “We would very much have liked to meet face to face with victims and the authorities in these places.”

Davis, a former New York state supreme court justice, replaced Canadian international law expert William Schabas who resigned last month under Israeli pressure. Tel Aviv had questioned Schabas’ impartiality as the law professor had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012.

Davis said the turnover in leadership and late-breaking testimony from witnesses forced to travel to neighboring countries and Geneva, means the commission needs until June to finalize its report.

Both sides under scrutiny

Israel came under intense criticism for its conduct during the 2014 Gaza war that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Even though the report is not expected till June, Makarim Wibisono, special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, gave a hint of what’s to come.

Gaza Stadt Hamas Israel 50 Tage Krieg

The 50-day Gaza conflict ended with a truce between Israel and Hamas in 2014. More than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers, were killed.

"The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack," Wibisono told the council.

Not all blame was laid at Israel’s feet. Flavia Pansieri, deputy high commissioner for human rights, said armed Palestinian groups operate with impunity against civilians and provoke Israeli aggression by targeting Israeli civilians.

“The actions of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian neighborhoods in Israel, firing from densely-populated areas, locating military objects in civilian buildings, and the execution of suspected collaborators, also constitute clear violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” Pansieri said in remarks published Monday on the UN’s website.

Representatives from Israel and the United States were absent from proceedings.

Despite the resignation of Schabas, Israel continued to call for the inquiry to be shelved saying it is biased against the Jewish state. It cut all ties with the council three years ago after it began a probe on how the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories violate human rights. Relations were partially restored late last year.

Washington, for its part, criticized the council's work saying it was unfairly targeting the Jewish state.

"We remain deeply troubled by this council's stand-alone agenda item directed against Israel, and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item," the US ambassador to the council, Keith Harper, said in a statement.

Even so, relations between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are at an all-time low after the Israeli premier said on the eve of elections that Israel was no longer committed to a Palestinian state. Netanyahu tried to walk back his remarks following re-election.

jar/lw (Reuters, AFP, UN)