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UN rights expert calls Israel Gaza attacks 'war crimes'

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories John Dugard [academic profile] said Friday that Israel's recent attack on a Hamas government office in Gaza which injured around 50 civilians and the killings of some 40 Palestinians in the past week should be considered war crimes [statement], noting that the attacks violate the Fourth Geneva Convention's ban on collective punishment. Dugard also called for the prosecution of those responsible for the attacks:

The killing of some forty Palestinians in Gaza in the past week, the targeting of a Government office near a wedding party venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians, and the closure of all crossings into Gaza raise very serious questions about Israel's respect for international law and its commitment to the peace process. Recent action violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also violates one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets. Israel must have known about the wedding party in Gaza near to the interior ministry when it launched missiles at the ministry building. Those responsible for such cowardly action are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes.
Dugard urged the United States and other states participating in peace negotiations to exercise their "legal and ... moral obligation to compel Israel to cease its actions against Gaza and to restore confidence in the peace process, ensure respect for international law and protect civilian life." A spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces [official website] defended the military's actions, saying that the attack which led to the injuries was directed at a Hamas building and nothing else. AFP has more.

In October, Dugard said that the UN must better address human rights violations committed in the Palestinian territories [JURIST report]. He has also previously criticized Israel's continued military presence in the region [JURIST report]. Dugard was appointed in 2001 as an independent expert by the now-defunct UN Commission on Human Rights to investigate Israeli rights violations. Israel and the US have dismissed his reports as one-sided.

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