- UN human rights chief urges accountability for serious violations in Israel-Hamas conflict.
- Turk refrains from naming parties but expresses concerns about war crimes on both sides.
- Calls for urgent independent monitoring in Israel and Palestinian territories.
On Thursday, the UN human rights chief underscored allegations of significant rights violations in the Israel-Hamas conflict, emphasizing the imperative for comprehensive accountability.
Volker Turk said “extremely serious allegations of multiple and profound breaches of international humanitarian law, whoever commits them, demand rigorous investigation and full accountability”.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, following a recent visit to the Middle East, refrained from specifically naming Israel or Hamas.
However, he expressed concerns about war crimes committed by both sides in a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands.
“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.
Israel, in response to the October 7 attacks that it claims killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, has pledged to eliminate Hamas. Authorities report that Hamas took 239 people hostage, including elderly individuals and young children.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry, Israel’s continuous airstrikes and ground offensive in Gaza have resulted in the deaths of over 11,500 people, predominantly civilians, including thousands of children. Turk condemned the unleashed “conflagration of violence.”
He said he had spoken to people crossing out of Gaza during a visit to the Egyptian border, and “rarely have I heard such disturbing testimony about the catastrophic harm that ordinary people have endured”.
He was unable to access Israel or the Palestinian territories, but stressed on Thursday the urgent need for his department to go there, “to ensure full and independent monitoring and documentation, and to coordinate protection work”.
He told reporters he had “asked Israel to give me access both to Israel, but also to the occupied Palestinian territory. I have not yet received a response”, he said.
The Israeli mission to the UN in Geneva later dismissed his request to visit Israel, telling AFP it “did not see any added benefit of the high commissioner’s visit at this time”.
During his visit to the region last week, the Israeli mission said Turk had “made it clear that his mind had already been made up, and therefore dialogue with (his office) would contribute little.”
During Thursday’s briefing, Turk voiced concern about the “intensification of violence and severe discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem”.
“This creates a potentially explosive situation,” he said.
“I am ringing the loudest possible alarm bell about the occupied West Bank.”
He urged an immediate ceasefire.
“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,” he said.
He also insisted that “the Israeli occupation must end”.
“Israelis’ freedom is inextricably bound up with Palestinians’ freedom. Palestinians and Israelis are each others’ only hope for peace.”
Israel harshly criticized UN attempts to balance criticism about violations, insisting that international law was “not a suicide pact”.
If a state cannot defend itself “or is criticized for doing so in line with international law, inevitably terrorist organizations will become more and more emboldened,” Israeli ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar told the gathering.
“There is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. We will not let Israel be delegitimized by misrepresentation of reality,” she said.
‘This is a massacre’
Palestinian Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi outright dismissed that perspective.
“You should wake up in this room. This is a massacre, this is genocide,” he said, accusing Israel of acting “above the law”.
“The problem didn’t start on October 7 — It started 75 years ago,” he said.
Other nations, including Jordan’s representative, voiced support for him, insisting that “Israel must cease its aggression.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Michele Taylor condemned the October 7 Hamas attack as “pure evil” and expressed sorrow for the Palestinians killed “due to the violence resulting from these attacks.”
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