UN deplores high toll on civilians of Gaza-Israel violence
While welcoming the recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a group of independent United Nations human rights experts Friday deplored the high price paid by civilians in both Gaza and Israel during the recent escalation of violence.
"We utterly condemn all attacks against civilians, and now that calm has been restored, our immediate thoughts go to the Palestinian and Israeli victims, especially women and children," said Michel Forst, who currently chairs the Coordination Committee set up by the experts charged by the UN Human Rights Council to address specific country situations and thematic issues in all parts of the world.
"The current situation shows once again that it is crucial for all parties to refrain from using force. Violence must not restart," he stressed.
The ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, was announced on Wednesday, just over a week after the start of the latest wave of violence - which includes rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza, and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
The violence claimed the lives of 139 Palestinians, more than 70 of them civilians, and wounded more than 900, according to the UN team in Gaza. It also displaced 10,000 people in the territory, which is home to 1.7 million Palestinians.
Since Nov 14, rocket fire has resulted in the death of four Israeli civilians, while 219 were reported injured, most of whom are civilians. One Israeli soldier was killed, while 16 others were wounded, one critically.
On behalf of the experts, Forst deplored the killing and wounding of civilians as the result of the aerial and naval bombings in Gaza, as well as the killing of journalists and targeting of media outlets.
"Furthermore, we deeply regret the destruction or damaging of houses, religious sites, schools and infrastructure," he said. "This results in additional suffering for Palestinians in Gaza."
He also condemned the launching of indiscriminate rockets on Israeli neighbourhoods which resulted in deaths and injuries. "The attack carried out in a bus in Tel Aviv amounts to a gross disregard for human life. Plainly stated, there is no possible justification whatsoever for this attack," he emphasized.
The group of experts underscored that accountability for any violations of international human rights and humanitarian law must be ensured, including prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into allegations of violations.
"These investigations should shed light on what happened, including by clarifying responsibilities, and take account the need to provide reparations to victims," Forst noted.
The experts, he said, will continue to closely monitor the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel to report on violations, through joint action when necessary.
Meanwhile, the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Friday welcomed additional funding that will help it provide urgent assistance to thousands of Gazans affected by the conflict.
The USD 2.3 million contributed by Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency comes in response to an urgent funding call to UNRWA's donors for over USD 14 million to provide for the immediate needs of Gazans.
The funding is needed to provide families who fled their homes during the violence with emergency aid, including food and cash assistance, mattresses, blankets, and kits containing soap and other household necessities. Other priorities include the urgent repair of refugee homes and UNRWA food distribution centres and clinics that were damaged, as well as the provision of medical supplies and fuel and the removal of waste and rubble.
"The people of Gaza paid a heavy price over the last few days of conflict, and we're working hard to provide the displaced, the needy and the injured with urgent support," said the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Robert Turner.
Also, the OPEC Fund for International Development has donated USD 500,000, which will be used to help provide emergency food and medical supplies.