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UN rights expert calls for independent war crimes inquiry in Gaza

[JURIST] Paul Hunt, the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, has called for an independent inquiry into war crimes in Gaza, saying that some Israeli attacks on Gaza are a violation of international humanitarian law [ICRC backgrounder, PDF]. In a statement [text] issued Wednesday, Hunt noted that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip area of Israel [JURIST news archive] significantly worsened between March and June 2006 and condemned the destruction of Gaza's only electric power station [AP report], saying that it threatens the health and safety of civilians due to water shortages and faulty sewage disposal in households, as well as a potential outbreak of communicable diseases.

Hunt said the power station attack may be a war crime under the International Bill of Rights [OHCHR backgrounder] and international humanitarian law, because international law prohibits attacks on civilians. It is questionable whether the Gaza power station made "an effective contribution to the enemy's military action" and destruction of the power station provided "a definite military advantage to the attacker," in order to allow an attack on such a target. Hunt added that the attack on the power station was a war crime if it "was not in conformity with international humanitarian law it amounts to a war crime," and that if the attack caused a disproportionate impact on the civilian population. Hunt also called for the immediate release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier that sparked violence between Israel and the Hamas led Palestinian Authority in June. IRNA has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday condemned Israel for using excessive force [statement text] in Lebanon and Hezbollah [CFR backgrounder] for its attacks on civilians. In an address to the UN Security Council, Annan said "Both the deliberate targeting by Hezbollah of Israeli population centres with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people must stop." Annan also called for the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies to be granted access to civilians. The UN News Centre has more.

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