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UN rights chief warns of possible war crimes in Gaza fighting

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.’s top human rights official demanded Tuesday that all sides in the two-week war in the Gaza Strip refrain from indiscriminate attacks on civilians, warning that violations may amount to war crimes.

The warning by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay came at a special session of the U.N.’s top human rights body, which voted 29-1 to authorize an international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged abuses since mid-June in the Gaza Strip.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, South African Navi Pillay, at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, July 23, 2014.(AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)

Only the United States voted against the resolution championed by Arab nations. Another 17 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 member-nations abstained.

Pillay said that of the more than 600 Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip reviewed by the global body, three-quarters were civilians. At least 147 were children and 74 women, she said.

According to the latest count more than 680 Palestinians and 31 Israelis – two of them civilians – have been killed during the conflict.

Pillay noted an Israeli drone missile strike in Gaza City that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also made reference to an Israeli strike and naval shelling that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the rights council’s special session, which was called for by China, Russia and more than a dozen other nations.

Israel launched its operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The fighting escalated last week with an Israeli ground offensive.

Pillay also warned that Hamas and others were violating international law.

“Israeli children, and their parents and other civilians, also have a right to live without the constant fear that a rocket fired from Gaza may land on their houses or their schools, killing or injuring them,” Pillay said.

“Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she added.

Pillay said not abiding by those principles could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

At the session, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki accused Israel of committing a crime against humanity and violating international human rights law. Israeli Ambassador Eviatar Manor accused Hamas of committing war crimes.

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