UN says Israel’s use of heavy bombs in Gaza is potential war crime; Israel rejects allegations

The United Nations human rights office said Wednesday Israel may have committed war crimes through the use of heavy bombs on at least six occasions, a charge that Israeli officials quickly denied.

The report from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner details six incidents of Israel deploying munitions, including heavy 2,000-pound bombs, along with 1,000-pound bombs and 250-pound bombs in densely populated areas of Gaza.

The strikes occurred from Oct. 9 to Dec. 2, 2023, on residential buildings, a school, a refugee camp and a market, killing 218 people in total, according to the report.

The U.N. human rights office said the use of those bombs in densely populated areas of Gaza, along with the lack of warning for civilians in five of the incidents, could amount to a war crime as an indiscriminate attack.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the international humanitarian law requirement to minimize civilians casualties has been “consistently violated in Israel’s bombing campaign” and that Israeli troops have “failed to ensure that they effectively distinguish between civilians and fighters.”

“I call on Israel to make public detailed findings on these incidents,” he said in a statement. “It should also ensure thorough and independent investigations into these and all other similar incidents with a view to identifying those responsible for violations, holding them to account and to ensuring all victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations.”

Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations denied the accusations and said the report “suffers from hindsight and methodological biases which cast a shadow on the credibility of its legal assessment.”

“There is therefore no doubt that the only objective of this Thematic Report is to lambast and single-out Israel, while further shielding Hamas terrorists in Gaza,” officials wrote in a statement. “Israel is fighting Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza, not the civilian population.”

Israel is facing international pressure to end the eight-month war in Gaza, where more than 37,000 people have been killed, according to Gaza health authorities, which do not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

The International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with top Hamas officials who the court said were responsible for planning the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people. Hamas also kidnapped around 250 people from Israel, with around 120 still being held in Gaza.

Israel’s use of heavy bombs in Gaza has been a major source of friction between the U.S. and Israeli officials. President Biden is holding back heavy bombs over concerns about their use in densely populated areas.

Two of the strikes on densely populated areas identified in the U.N. report were in northern Gaza at the Jabalya market and at the Jabalya refugee camp in October. The refugee camp strike alone killed a verified 52 people and damaged or destroyed 20 buildings.

Another three strikes hit a residential area, a neighborhood and a school in Gaza City, all similarly densely populated, according to the U.N., while Israel also allegedly struck a residential block in middle Gaza.

The U.N. said Israel failed to distinguish between military and civilian targets, taking an “expansive approach to targeting” that may violate humanitarian law on distinction and proportionality.

Under humanitarian law, the military is expected to not only minimize civilian harm through distinguishing between lawful targets but also by taking precaution in certain strikes to ensure a disproportionate number of civilians are not harmed to hit a military target.

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