Israel ramps up criticism of UN 'war crimes' probe

Israeli delegation in Geneva slams probe accusing Israel of possible 'war crimes,' says it ignored Gazan violence, role of Hamas.


Gaza border riots
Gaza border riots

Senior Israeli officials on Wednesday delivered a detailed critique of a UN probe that accused its soldiers of possible war crimes in Gaza, saying investigators ignored key evidence, notably over the role of Hamas.

Last month, the "UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" said Israeli troops intentionally shot children, journalists, health workers and other civilians while responding to unrest in the Gaza strip between March 30 and December 31 last year.

Israel immediately denounced the report as biased and rejected its findings.

But a senior Israeli delegation that traveled to Geneva days before the probe is set to be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council offered more criticism on Wednesday.

In a briefing with journalists, the delegation accused UN investigators of downplaying both the violence in the protests and the fact that the unrest was orchestrated by Hamas.

The UN commission said the protests were not instigated by Hamas and were generally peaceful in nature, arguing that Hamas was therefore under no obligation to intervene.

"For the commission, Hamas is completely absent from this report. They see no Hamas, they hear no Hamas," said one Israeli official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The Israeli delegation provided evidence that it said proved Hamas' involvement throughout the protests, including in coordinating serious acts of violence targeting Israeli troops.

"Hamas has complete control of these events," the official said.

The commission also provided a list of victims it described as civilians, including Naji Abu Hojayeer, identified as a 24-year-old mechanic shot in the abdomen by Israeli troops.

The Israeli delegation said that after checking the commission's list it easily established that some of the victims, including Hojayeer, were militants.

"We thought that the report was definitely unprofessional," the Israeli official said, adding that the UN team lacked military knowledge and did not "understand international humanitarian law."

Among the most strident accusations by the UN team was that Israeli forces deliberately shot and killed people that were clearly identifiable as children, journalists, health workers or disabled.

The Israeli official denounced that finding, insisting that troops were only allowed to use live rounds against those who posed "a real and imminent threat."

Civilians who were amid the unrest may have gotten hit if a sniper missed or by a bullet that passed through its target, the official said.

But, the official added, Israel probes every fatal act involving its forces and has opened 11 criminal investigations connected to the Gaza unrest.

"We have been trying to deal with these events in the best non-lethal way possible," the official said.