UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinians said Friday they want the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a commission to carry out an independent investigation of the Israeli military’s killing and wounding of Palestinians during protests in Gaza.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, said his counterpart in Geneva will start the process early next week with initial consultations that will hopefully culminate in an emergency meeting of the rights council and approval of a resolution authorizing a body “to investigate these crimes.”
“It seems that the Israeli occupying forces are not restraining themselves, they’re not listening to anyone and they are continuing with this massacre,” Mansour told reporters.
For a fourth week, several thousand people in Gaza staged protests on the border with Israel to protest its blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory and press for a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
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Israeli soldiers firing from across a border fence killed four Palestinians Friday, bringing the number killed since the protest marches started in late March to 32, and the number wounded by live rounds to more than 1,600, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel says it’s defending its border, and alleges Hamas uses protests as cover for attacks. The Palestinians say the rising casualty toll signals that Israel’s military is sticking to its open-fire rules against the protesters despite international criticism of the use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement late Friday that “Hamas is continuing to instigate violence against Israel as rioters today used firebombs and other means in attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate our sovereign territory.”
He called on all U.N. officials “to condemn Hamas for encouraging violence, promoting instability and for the despicable act of exploiting women and children by placing them in harm’s way.”
The U.N. Security Council has not commented on the protests because the United States, Israel’s closest ally, has blocked proposed statements supported by most members critical of the high death toll and Israel’s use of force against protesters.
With Security Council action blocked, the Palestinians are turning to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council where there are no vetoes. Mansour noted that in the past, the Palestinians were successful in getting the rights council to authorize three different fact-finding missions and commissions.
He said the Palestinians will not accept an investigation announced by Israel into its military actions in Gaza because “it cannot be credible.”
An investigation must be independent and transparent, Mansour stressed, as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, other countries, and most recently six independent human rights investigators have called for.
The rights experts issued a joint statement on April 17 saying: “Despite Israel’s commitment to investigate the events of the past few weeks, security forces continue to use live ammunition and rubber bullets against the protesters, killing and wounding dozens of mostly unarmed protesters, women, men and children alike.”
The experts, including the special investigator on human rights in the Palestinian territories, expressed “outrage” that the shootings may have resulted in unlawful killings and injuries.
The joint statement welcomed an Israeli probe, but said an independent investigation “is the only way to truly address what has happened in Gaza, and to prevent its recurrence.”
The investigators cited reports that some Israel officials suggested the purpose of the Israeli probe is “to avoid scrutiny” from the international community and the International Criminal Court.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called for an end to violence in Gaza on April 8, noting that the Palestinian territories were subject to a preliminary examination by her office, and she was monitoring events there closely.
Under the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the court won’t assume jurisdiction if there is a national investigation, a point Mansour stressed.
“I believe that Israel recently announced that it will investigate its conduct precisely not to allow the ICC to proceed with an investigation,” he said.