UN Envoy: Gaza Civilian Victims in Israeli Assault "Not Simply Bystanders"

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A Palestinian child walks past a mural of children using an Israeli army watch tower as a swing ride, said to have been painted by British street artist Banksy, on the remains of a house that was destroyed during the 50-day Israeli assault, in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun on February 26, 2015. AFP/Mohammed Abed

Published Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A United Nations envoy called on Israel on Tuesday to investigate the killing of Palestinian civilians, one third of them children, during the 2014 assault on Gaza, and to make the findings public.

Makarim Wibisono, a former Indonesian ambassador, issued his first report to the UN Human Rights Council since becoming its special rapporteur on human rights in Palestinian territories last June.

US Secretary of State John Kerry accused the forum on Monday of being obsessed by allegations of Israeli abuses and said the United States would defend Israel against efforts to isolate it.

Some 2,256 Palestinians were killed during the 51-day assault, of whom 1,563 were civilians, including 538 children, while 66 Israeli soldiers and five civilians died, Wibisono said.

The number of Palestinian children killed exceeds the total number of Israelis, civilians and soldiers, killed by Palestinians in the last decade.

The Israeli offensive ended on August 26 with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement.

"The stark disparity in casualty figures on the two sides ... reflects the (skewed) balance of power and the disproportionate cost borne by Palestinian civilians, raising questions as to whether Israel adhered to the international law principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions," Wibisono said.

Most civilian victims were "not simply bystanders on the street in the wrong place at the wrong time", he said. "Most victims were families killed in missile strikes on their own homes, usually at night."

The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that 3,106 Palestinian children were injured. The UN estimates that 1,000 children will suffer a permanent disability as a result of their injury.

The UN said as many as 1,500 children have been orphaned by Israeli attacks that killed their parents, while 6,000 children will have a parent with a lifelong disability.

In addition, 145 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in a single Israeli attack, for a total of 735 lives lost.

The Israeli strikes targeted 13 public hospitals, 17 non-governmental hospitals, including al-Wafa Hospital which was completely destroyed, 23 governmental health centers, four of which were completely destroyed, and four private health centers, including the Khalil al-Wazir Clinic which was completely destroyed.

Wibisono interviewed victims in Amman and Cairo or witnesses on video calls in Gaza, as Israel had not let him go there. A separate report on possible war crimes committed by both sides, Hamas and Israel, is to be issued by a UN commission of inquiry soon. Its chairman was forced to step down last month.

Unexploded ordnance still litters Gaza, causing further casualties, he said, with an estimated 7,000 devices that haven’t been defused, putting children at particular risk.

Moreover, some 100,000 people remain displaced while 450,000 are disconnected from water mains, he added.

The besieged enclave has also seen widespread destruction of its infrastructure, reaching levels of devastation that UN chief Ban Ki Moon called “beyond description” in a visit to the Strip on October 14.

According to the UN, at least 96,000 Palestinians homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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