World

UN Human Rights Council condemns use of 'excessive force' by Israel at Gaza border

The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned Israel's "apparent intentional use of unlawful lethal and other excessive force" against civilian protesters in Gaza, and called for perpetrators of violations in the strip to face justice.

Israel criticizes the move as an 'absurd, hypocritical ritual'

Palestinian protesters burn tires next to the border fence during a protest at the border with Israel near Beit Lahiya, Gaza. (Khalil Hamra/Associated Press)

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday condemned Israel's "apparent intentional use of unlawful lethal and other excessive force" against civilian protesters in Gaza, and called for perpetrators of violations in the strip to face justice.

Protests at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip began in March last year, with Gazans demanding Israel ease a blockade of the enclave and recognize their right to return to lands their families fled or were forced from when Israel was founded in 1948.

On Friday, Israeli forces killed two people and wounded 55 others taking part in the weekly protests along the fortified border, the Palestinian health ministry said.

On the final day of a four-week session, the Geneva forum adopted a resolution on accountability, brought by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The vote was 23 states in favour, eight against, with 15 abstentions and one delegation absent.

It called for cooperating with a preliminary examination opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2015 into alleged Israeli human rights violations.

The resolution was based on a report by a UN inquiry that said Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests last year.

"The targeting of civilians is a serious matter that should not be condoned," said Ibrahim Khraisi, ambassador for the Palestinians, citing the report's findings. The toll included 35 Palestinian children, two journalists and medical workers, he said.

Israel slams report

Israeli ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter said there was "clear evidence of politmarical bias against Israel" in the report.

She accused the panel of ignoring "the very real threat" posed to 70,000 Israeli citizens living along the border from rockets fired by Hamas militants during the period of inquiry, March 30-December 31.

In Jerusalem, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement dismissing what it called an "absurd, hypocritical ritual" of singling out Israel for criticism in "predetermined" findings that ignored the reality on the ground.

Countries voting in favour included Spain, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. Those opposed included Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Brazil and Australia.

Britain, Italy, Japan and India were among the abstainers.

"Hamas of course bear principle responsibility as their operatives have cynically exploited the protests and we are clear that Israel has the right to self-defence," said Julian Braithwaite, Britain's ambassador.

"But equally we have publicly and privately expressed our long-standing concerns about the use of live ammunition and excessive force by the IDF. Our decision to abstain reflects this balance."

The United States does not participate, having quit the body last year over perceived anti-Israel bias, while Canada is not a current voting member, instead participating in the council's peer review process.

With files from CBC News

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