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UN rights chief condemns Israel, Hamas

UN rights chief condemns Israel, Hamas ‘Some steps forward’ have been made in ending Gaza conflict, Kerry says in Jerusalem after meeting UN’s Ban

Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip could amount to war crimes, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said Wednesday during an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council. She also condemned Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of missiles into Israel.

The meeting was held to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The Palestinian and Arab countries filed a draft with the Council requesting a probe into alleged war crimes being perpetrated in the war.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the emergency session, citing attacks that have killed Palestinian civilians, including children.

She said Israeli children and other civilians also had a right to live without constant fear of rocket attacks.

“Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she said.

The meeting and the process that could potentially follow it will be similar to what took place in 2009 following Israel’s Operation Cast Led, which led to the establishment of the Goldstone Commission; the subsequent report published by the commission detailed supposed war crimes that Israel had carried out in the course of the war.

Israel was also slammed at the meeting by the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, who said Israel is committing “a crime against humanity” in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel is in the process of committing hideous crimes. Israel is destroying residential areas completely. Israel is targeting journalists. Israel has destroyed 2,500 houses. Infrastructure has been destroyed. Israeli forces are targeting Gaza’s medical centers. What Israel is doing is a crime against humanity,” he said.

In a meeting between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and UN Chief Ban Ki-moon, Lieberman slammed UNWRA for giving rockets found hidden in their school over to Hamas.

Lieberman told Ban, “The UNRWA schools were established for the education of children, and instead they shelter rockets designated to kill children in Israel. I protested very strongly that after the rockets were discovered, UNRWA returned them to Hamas instead of handing them over to Israel.”

Also among the flurry of diplomats flocking to the region to try and broker a ceasefire is John Kerry, who landed in Israel on Wednesday. The US Secretary of State has insisted that Egypt’s ceasefire proposal remains “the only viable framework” for the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

Kerry said Wednesday that diplomacy to end the Gaza bloodshed has made progress, but warned more time was needed. “We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done,” Kerry said in Jerusalem as he met Ban.

World powers have urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire and stop raining rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, demands it has so far resisted.

“Only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence,” Kerry said, and Ban Ki-moon appealed for the violence to “stop now”.

But Israel justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that “Hamas is nowhere near a ceasefire. We shall not cease until our military goals, eliminating tunnels, are achieved.”

Haaretz Newspaper reported that Egypt has suggested tying in peace talks between Israel and Gaza into a ceasefire deal.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri to the paper to the goal of the ceasefire was “to not only resolve this issue but also to set in motion once again the peace process that Secretary Kerry has been so actively involved in so as to end this ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

But Hamas has dug in its demands, and reiterated its insistence on a lifting of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the release of prisoners to halt its rocket fire.

“The conditions for a ceasefire are… a full lifting of the blockade and then the release of those recently detained in the West Bank,” its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said on television.

“We cannot go backwards, to a slow death,” he said, referring to the Israeli blockade in force since 2006.

“The conditions of the Palestinian resistance constitute the minimum required for a truce. The resistance and the sons of our people who have made such sacrifices in this mad war cannot accept anything less.”