GENEVA Israel must lift its military blockade of the Gaza Strip and invite an independent, fact-finding mission to investigate its raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, a United Nations rights body said on Friday.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee also told Israel to ensure that Palestinians in the occupied territories can enjoy the fundamental civil and political freedoms that Israel had pledged to uphold in the main international human rights treaty.
Israel maintains that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, although it says that the treaty does apply to Jewish settlers there, committee member Christine Chanet said.
There are no Israeli settlers in Gaza itself.
"In Israel's written responses to the committee, one could see a total discrimination in the sense that settlers benefited from the pact," she told a news briefing.
"We have maintained our position on the applicability of the covenant. We are stronger because the International Court of Justice has said we were right on this position," she added, referring to the World Court's 2004 advisory opinion.
Chanet, a former French judge and international human rights expert, said: "It is very difficult to have a real dialogue (with Israel)."
The committee's non-binding recommendations add to pressure on Israel to explain what happened in its attack on May 31 on an aid flotilla in which nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed, damaging relations between Israel and Turkey.
Israel admitted errors in planning the raid but justified the use of lethal force saying its marines came under attack from activists wielding knives and clubs. Activists deny this.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath but the government has repeatedly condemned the U.N. human rights bodies in Geneva as biased.
The recommendations are the latest in a series of reports and sessions in which Israel has been on the defensive at the United Nations over its policies in Gaza and the West Bank.
On July 23, another U.N. rights forum, the Human Rights Council, appointed a team of international experts to investigate the raid on the flotilla and called on all parties to cooperate.
The committee is a body of 18 independent experts, mainly prominent in international and human rights law, that monitors the implementation of the Covenant by the 166 countries including Israel that have signed up to it.
The recommendations on Israel's regular report to the committee on its compliance included calls for investigations into human rights abuses including killings in Israel's military offensive in Gaza between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009.
Israel should also refrain from holding criminal proceedings against children in military courts, the committee said.
"There are hundreds of children (being held)," Chanet said.
The committee also told Israel to end extra-judicial executions of terrorist suspects, make torture illegal, end construction of settlements in the occupied territories, stop building a wall cutting off some of the territories from other regions, and stop destroying homes as a collective punishment.
It asked Israel to say in its next report due by July 2013 what action it had taken on these and other recommendations.
(Reporting by Jonathan Lynn and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)