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UN rights chief urges international probe into Israel-Hamas war violations

Nov. 16, 2023 - 19:14 By AFP
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Tuerk briefs member of States on his recent trip to the Middle East, during an informal briefing, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday. (EPA-Yonhap)

GENEVA (AFP) - The UN human rights chief on Thursday decried serious allegations of international law violations in the Israel-Hamas war and suggested an international investigation was needed.

Volker Turk said, "Extremely serious allegations of multiple and profound breaches of international humanitarian law, whoever commits them, demand rigorous investigation and full accountability."

Turk was speaking after a visit last week to the Middle East, where he warned that both sides were committing war crimes in the deadly conflict.

"Where national authorities prove unwilling or unable to carry out such investigations, and where there are contested narratives on particularly significant incidents, international investigation is called for," he said in a briefing to UN member states in Geneva.

Turk was unable to go to Israel or the Palestinian territories despite having requested access.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for the attacks of October 7, which killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians. Hamas also took around 240 people hostage, among them elderly people and young children.

Israel's relentless bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza has killed more than 11,500 people, mainly civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Turk said the crisis was extending well beyond the Gaza Strip, voicing deep concern about the "intensification of violence and severe discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem."

"In my view, this creates a potentially explosive situation and I want to be clear: we are well beyond the level of early warning. I am ringing the loudest possible alarm bell about the occupied West Bank," he said.

Turk said his most important recommendation was that all parties had to acknowledge that all human lives have equal value.

"It is apparent that on both sides, some view the killing of civilians as either acceptable collateral damage, or a deliberate and useful weapon of war. This is a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe," he said.

"We must not let rage submerge our moral compass. We must not lose our grip on reality to the myth that pain can be eradicated by unleashing it on a scapegoat."

He added: "Israelis' freedom is inextricably bound up with Palestinians' freedom. Palestinians and Israelis are each other’s only hope for peace."