World News

Israel hit at U.N. over Palestinian child rights

* Israel said to violate child rights in Gaza

* Islamic states accused of executing children

GENEVA (Reuters) - Arab countries and Cuba on Wednesday accused Israel of grossly violating the rights of Palestinian children during its December assault on Gaza.

But in a debate in the United Nations Human Rights Council, a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) charged that a range of Islamic countries, especially Iran, had been executing children, calling it “the ultimate barbarity.”

The Gaza attack at the end of December “left children as the main victims, with many severely wounded, and even many cases of a serious pathological nature as a result of destruction wrought by Israel,” declared a Yemeni delegate.

Palestinian researchers have said around 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the attack, of whom 280 were under 18.

Speaking for all Arab states on the 47-member Council, the Yemeni delegate said the incursion -- which Israel says was aimed at stopping cross-border rocket attacks on its towns near Gaza -- was “a violation of every humanitarian law.”

Cuba, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement which includes most developing countries, said Israel had killed many Palestinian children in Gaza through the use of “excessive and indiscriminate force.”

The charges were issued during a debate marking the 20th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which most of the world body’s 192 members have signed.

Italy told the Council -- on which a bloc of Islamic and African states backed by China, Cuba and Russia have a majority -- that the Convention’s ban on executing offenders who committed crimes when aged under 18 should be enforced.

This appeal was backed by a spokesman for four NGOs who said five Islamic countries, including Council members Pakistan, which speaks there for the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Saudi Arabia executed children.

Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), identified the other three as Iran, Sudan and Yemen. He said the five had executed 32 children between them since 2005, of whom 26 were put to death by Iran.

Brown -- speaking also for the World Population Foundation, the Association for World Education and the World Union of Progressive Judaism -- said eight people were executed in Iran last year for crimes committed when they were under 18.

A total of 133 more remained under sentence of death there, he said. He urged the OIC “to use its influence with the states concerned to end what many see as the ultimate barbarity: states killing their own children.”

Editing by Andrew Roche