The two week offensive in Gaza, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children in the crowded coastal enclave, could have seen war crimes committed by Israel, the UN’s top human rights official has warned.

The remarks from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in Geneva came a week after Israel escalated its Operation Protective Edge – launched with the stated purpose of halting Hamas rocket fire – from aerial bombardments into a ground campaign that has resulted in a sharp increase in Palestinian casualties.

They raised the possibility that the military campaign, if it continues much longer or is escalated further, could turn into a public relations and diplomatic debacle for Israel as happened with its Operation Cast Lead campaign launched in Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

Citing cases of Israeli air strikes and shelling of houses and hospitals, Ms Pillay told a UN session considering a resolution to set up an international inquiry into Israeli actions that “there seems to be a strong possibility international humanitarian law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes”.

Referring to Israeli naval shelling that killed four Palestinian boys on the Gaza beach on 16 July, Mr Pillay added: “The disregard for international humanitarian law and for the right to life was sharply evident. Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.” Tonight, the UN council agreed to launch the inquiry.

According to Reuters, Ms Pillay was also critical of militant groups’ indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars, which has killed three people in Israel and forced much of the country to seek protection in shelters and safety rooms. She said it was failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets. Israeli leaders dismissed Ms Pillay’s criticisms as reflecting an anti-Israel animus on the part of the council. “These are intolerably biased statements based on newspaper clippings, without a discernment of the facts,’’ said the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson. “They may pander to the more obscurantist members of the human rights council but they do a huge disservice to human rights.’’… see more

source: independent UK