Israel's response in Gaza was 'disproportionate': UN human rights chief

A UN human rights body has criticized Israel for the killings of protesters in Gaza and treatment of the Palestinians, but Washington has come to Israel's defence.

Israel, U.S. slam the UN session, with an American official calling the council 'a broken body'

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Friday in Geneva that Palestinians are 'caged in a toxic slum' in Gaza. According to the latest figures, Israeli forces had killed 106 Palestinians since March 30, he said. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

A UN human rights body has criticized Israel for the killings of protesters in Gaza and treatment of the Palestinians, but Washington has come to Israel's defence.

The special session of the Human Rights Council was convened after the bloodiest day for Palestinians in years last Monday, when 60 were killed by Israeli gunfire during demonstrations that Israel said included attempts to breach its frontier fence.

"Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told the council.

He said Israeli forces had killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children, since March 30. More than 12,000 were injured, at least 3,500 by live ammunition. Israel was an occupying power under international law, obliged to protect the people of Gaza and ensure their welfare, he said.

"But they are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanized by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest."

Hussein said "the stark contrast in casualties on both sides is also suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response."

A Palestinian demonstrator reacts as others run from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba at the Israel-Gaza border on May 15. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Israel said the deaths took place in protests organized by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, which intentionally provoked the violence, an accusation Hamas denies. Israel and the United States complain that the Human Rights Council, made up of 47 states chosen by the General Assembly, has a permanent anti-Israel bias because of the disproportionate number of countries hostile to Israel with UN seats.

Canada opposes resolution

The session was considering a resolution put forward by Pakistan and other Muslim countries that includes a call for the council to dispatch an "independent, international commission of inquiry."

Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was "imperative" that all facts be gathered into the incidents in Gaza, and called for "an immediate independent investigation."

Rosemary McCarney, Canada's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, told the session Friday that remains the case, and that Canada expresses "grave concern" about the number of dead and injured.

But, she said, Canada considered the resolution biased.

"We cannot support the resolution before the council today, as it clearly prejudges the outcome of such an investigation. The resolution is one-sided, and does not advance the prospects for a peaceful, negotiated settlement to this conflict," said McCarney.

"The resolution also singles out Israel, without any reference to other actors. Canada's long-stated position is that we expect all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and human rights law, and this is not reflected in the resolution."

Canada is not currently one of the 47 states with a vote.

The resolution was approved 29-2, with the United States and Australia against. Among the 14 abstentions were Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, while Ukraine and Mongolia were not present for voting.

The inquiry mandated by the council will be asked to produce a final report next March.

Israel, U.S. cite Hamas provocations

Israel's ambassador, Aviva Raz Shechter, said the council had relapsed to its worst form of anti-Israel obsession. The call for an inquiry was "politically motivated and won't improve the situation on the ground by even one iota," she said.

"The loss of life could have been avoided had Hamas refrained from sending terrorists to attack Israel under the cover of the riots, while exploiting its own civilian population as human shields," she said. "It is Israel, certainly not Hamas, which makes a real effort to minimize casualties among Palestinian civilians."

The United States has stood by Israel, with the violence coinciding with a ceremony on Monday to mark the U.S. Embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The embassy is to be located for now where the U.S. Consulate has been operating, with the large majority of staff still in Tel Aviv until a permanent location is found.

Charge d'Affaires ad interim Theodore Allegra of the U.S., shown during Friday's session, accused the council of an anti-Israel bias. (FAbrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. charge d'affaires Theodore Allegra said the council was ignoring the real culprit of the violence, Hamas.

"The one-sided action proposed by the council today only further shows that the Human Rights Council is indeed a broken body," he said.

Two million people live in Gaza, most of them stateless descendants of refugees who fled or were driven from homes in what is now Israel at its founding in 1948.

The territory has been run by Hamas since 2007, during which time Israel has fought three wars against the militant group, which denies Israel's right to exist. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of Gaza for security reasons, something the United Nations says has plunged Gaza's economy into a collapse.

In Gaza, residents told Reuters that Israel deserved its international criticism.

"Israel must be dismantled as a state and its leaders must stand international trial for their massacres against us since 1948," said Ibrahim Abu Galeb, 65, a refugee living in southern Gaza. "Israel occupied our land, displaced our people, killed our children's dreams to live safely and it is behind our sickness and poverty."

With files from The Associated Press