The UN’s senior human rights official has told diplomats that Israel’s military and Hamas militants appear to have violated international humanitarian law and might have committed war crimes during their two-week war in the Gaza Strip.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said about three-quarters of those killed in the conflict – around 650 Palestinians and 31 Israelis – were civilians, and thousands more have been injured.
Ms Pillay told the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council that the situation in Gaza requires its urgent attention because of “a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes”.
She said every allegation of human rights abuse “must be properly and independently investigated”.
Israeli troops continued to battle Hamas militants today as the negotiations went on.
Trapped by Israeli tank shelling and drone strikes in Khan Younis, a town on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinian families scrambled to flee the area.
A Palestinian health official said eight Hamas fighters died in the battle near Khan Younis, and the Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate about 250 people.
The Red Crescent said Hamas fighters in the area were deploying rocket propelled grenades and light weapons, including machine guns, against the Israelis.
Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby UN schools.
The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and destroying large amounts of property.
Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel that are intended to allow Hamas militants to carry out attacks against Israelis.
As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively free of violence, despite the Gaza fighting.
Mahmoud Hamamreh was killed in stone throwing clashes in the village of Husan, doctors said.