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U.N. watchdog urges Israel to probe possible Gaza war crimes

GENEVA (Reuters) - Israel should investigate all alleged violations committed by its forces during three recent wars in Gaza and ensure military commanders are brought to justice for any crimes, a United Nations human rights watchdog said on Thursday.

A panel of independent experts urged Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, stop confiscating land for their expansion, prevent violence against Palestinians and take measures to withdraw all settlers.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee issued its conclusions and recommendations after examining Israel’s compliance with an international treaty on civil and political rights.

“It is a range of serious problems including continuing problems. Problems that just don’t change and need some very serious attention,” chairman Nigel Rodley told a news briefing.

Cornelis Flinterman, a panel member, said the committee was calling on Israel “once again” to carry out impartial investigations into serious violations of human rights and “see to it that the perpetrators are brought to justice”.

Israel’s latest land and aerial attacks on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in July-August caused a “disproportionate number of casualties among civilians, including children”, the panel said.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the 51-day conflict, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.

Israel launched the offensive with the stated aim of halting repeated militant rocket attack out of Gaza and to destroy tunnels built underneath the border area, which Hamas Islamist fighters used to stage attacks.

It was the third major conflict since December 2008.

The delegation from the Israeli government which appeared before the panel had insisted Israel had a good system of investigating abuses or violations of either human rights or humanitarian law by the military, Rodley said.

“But they weren’t so forthcoming in terms of giving us examples of how successful that system had been,” he said.

SETTLEMENTS

Israel says its army regularly investigates accusations of wrong-doing leveled against its troops. It also accuses Hamas of committing repeated war crimes.

There was no public comment by Israel on the U.N. panel’s 10-page findings, submitted to the government hours before.

Punitive demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin homes in the West Bank and Israeli Negev desert should be halted, it said.

Settlement construction had “more than doubled” since 2010 and the panel said this had to stop. Israel, in a private reply to the findings, had not contested this fact, Flinterman said.

Successive Israeli governments have said major settlement blocs, deemed illegal under international law, will remain part of Israel in any negotiated deal with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday to fast-track plans for 1,000 new settler homes in Israel-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state which would include the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The U.N. panel also called for an end to Israel’s practice of holding Palestinians in administrative detention -- or detention without trial -- and voiced concern at the “fact that in many cases the detention order is based on secret evidence”.

“We continue to get allegations of ill-treatment verging on torture in detention, particularly in the context of security issues. It has been a concern for a long time,” said Rodley, a former U.N. investigator on torture.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Raissa Kasolowsky

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