U.N. rights boss, Red Cross urge Israel, Hamas to spare civilians

GENEVA Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:31am EST

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N.'s human rights chief pressed Israel on Tuesday to avoid strikes on civilian structures in Gaza, and UNICEF said children in the enclave were showing signs of severe trauma after direct hits on dwellings that have killed dozens of civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also reminded both parties - Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement - to the week-old conflict of their obligation to comply with humanitarian law to minimize civilian casualties.

At least 57 Palestinian civilians, including 18 children, are confirmed as having been killed, according to U.N. monitors who say the death toll had doubled in the past 48 hours. Ten more people were killed overnight but it was unclear how many were civilians, U.N. rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.

"The High Commissioner therefore calls on Israel to scrupulously meet its legal obligations to distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and take precautions and all possible measures to avoid the loss of civilian life and damage to civilian property," Colville told a news briefing.

Some 31 residences in Gaza and two buildings used by media have been hit by Israeli missiles so far, and hundreds of people have been injured, he said.

Dozens of schools and religious sites in Gaza are reported to have been damaged by Israel's aerial bombing campaign, which followed weeks of increasing Hamas rocket fire into Israel.

"As to whether these would be war crimes, that would depend very much on the circumstances of each individual episode as to whether there was a valid (military) target nearby or not, but that's a very complex issue," Colville said.

He said Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and an ex-U.N. war crimes judge, felt it was necessary to ensure accountability for any violation of international law, including through independent investigations.

"Partners in Gaza tell UNICEF that children are increasingly showing signs of severe psycho-social distress. This includes an inability to sleep, being afraid to go out in public, clinging to parents, bedwetting, nightmares and withdrawal," UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva.


Under international law, all sides are obliged to abide by three principles governing the rules of war. These include a need to distinguish between combatants and civilians and taking all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

"The Israelis are saying that's what they are doing and yet there are a lot of civilian casualties taking place. So that needs further examination as to whether the principle of precaution is being properly followed," Colville said.

Proportionality means refraining from launching an attack when it is expected to cause excessive loss of civilian life in relation to the anticipated military advantage, he said.

Israel says it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties and accuses Hamas and other militant groups of deliberately putting Gaza's 1.7 million people in harm's way by placing rocket launchers among them.

Pillay also condemned "the continuing indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilians in Israel by militants from Gaza" whose rockets have killed three Israeli civilians, injured others and damaged civilian property, Colville said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to the region with a message that escalation of the week-long conflict was in nobody's interest.

The ICRC said it was in regular contact with Israeli and Palestinian authorities, reminding them of their legal obligations "regarding means and methods of warfare".

But mounting casualty figures are making the situation difficult for Gaza's main hospitals and it is hard to maintain deliveries of medicines and medical materials, it said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (3)
paintcan wrote:
Why isn’t the UN calling for evacuations of children from the war zone? The British did that with evacuations of children from urban centers during the blitz. Gaza has been the only war zone in recent years where all the civilians are trapped like fish in a barrel.

The world seems to becoming gut-selfish, largely run on automatic, and willing to believe any load of propaganda and feel good rhetoric that comes down the line. Both sides believe in military prowess to gain their objectives.

Without a doubt, the situation is one where the Gazans are trapped under a regime of collective punishment imposed by a foreign government that does not have the credibility to preach the “true faith” regarding adherence to international law.

Nov 20, 2012 9:31am EST  --  Report as abuse
@Paintcan: I have always maintained that it is collective punishment where a community of people are trapped without an exit point. This is much akin to the nazi’s during WW11, unfortunately the very people that were victims to this crime, are the perpatrators.
Whoever they maybe that kill children are pure scumbags and the world knows who they really are. COWARDS!!!!!!

Nov 20, 2012 11:03am EST  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:
@politicaljunkie – It is the UN opinion as well and is derived from the Geneva Conventions. Neither Obama nor Hillary has taken any pains to stress that point (at least in anything I ever see). Romney was just on the fund raising make when he went over there. He knew where to find the fattest wallets worth the courting. I don’t think he set foot either in the West Bank or Gaza.

If it is possible that few Gazan would leave under even this situation then the Israeli’s face a committed foe whom they will never be able to defeat. Is that their intention or are they subject to the same popular political mistakes every other type of government seems to be prone to? Democracies can look and act so like automated machines it’s frightening. The media is the message and the money makes the media message. Democracy’s creds are fading even in its modern “homeland”.

I didn’t vote for any of the big bums this year. Maybe there will be a better crop in another four years.

Nov 20, 2012 11:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
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