UN envoy says Israel attacks on Gaza excessive

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights investigator criticized Israel on Tuesday for violating international law in the Gaza Strip through a “disproportionate” use of force and killing of civilians.

John Dugard, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said that the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants into the southern Israeli town of Sderot was also illegal.

More than 50 people had been killed and 180 wounded in Israeli air strikes in the past two weeks, many of them civilians, he said. Palestinian militants had fired more than 270 rockets into Sderot, killing two Israelis and injuring 16.

“The indiscriminate firing of rockets into Sderot violates international humanitarian law. So does Israel’s response as it fails to distinguish between civilians and combatants and is a disproportionate use of force,” Dugard said in a statement.

Israel’s “extrajudicial killings” were “illegal under international humanitarian law” and seemed to fail to meet even the minimum requirements laid down by Israel’s Supreme Court last December, according to the U.N. envoy.

On Monday, Hamas kept up rocket fire into Israel in defiance of a ceasefire call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli threats to escalate military strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Dugard also said that more than 40 people arrested last year, including more than 30 Palestinian members of Hamas, “still remain in Israeli custody with no prospect of release or being brought to trial”.

“Arrests of this kind are clear acts of collective punishment, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and undermine the peace process,” said Dugard, a South African jurist who has served in the independent post since 2001.

He called on the so-called Quartet -- the United States, the European Union (EU), Russia and the United Nations, which meets on Wednesday in Berlin -- to advance the peace process in a “fair and even-handed manner”.

Dugard repeated that the Quartet was ignoring human rights violations by Israel, including military incursions and arrests in the West Bank, new settlements and construction of a wall in Palestinian territory, roadblocks, and withholding of taxes.

The Quartet must treat both parties equally and accord equal recognition to both sides, according to the envoy.