UN investigators have accused Israeli soldiers of intentionally firing on civilians and said they may have committed war crimes in their lethal response to Palestinian demonstrations in Gaza.
The independent Commission of Inquiry, set up last year by the UN’s human rights council, said Israeli forces killed 189 people and shot more than 6,100 others with live ammunition near the fence that divides the two territories.
The panel said in a statement that it had found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such”.
Thirty-five of those killed were children, three were clearly identifiable paramedics and two were clearly marked journalists, the report said.
Israel dismissed the report as “hostile, mendacious and slanted”.
The panel acknowledged “acts of significant violence” from the demonstrators, who threw stones, molotov cocktails and in several cases explosives at the fence and Israeli troops behind it.
It made clear, however, that such actions did not amount to combat or military campaigns, rejecting an Israeli claim of “terror activities” by Palestinian armed groups. “The demonstrations were civilian in nature, with clearly stated political aims,” it said.
Investigators also said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli troops had killed and injured Palestinians “who were neither directly participating in hostilities, nor posing an imminent threat.”
They said: “These serious human rights and humanitarian law violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.”
Weekly protests have been held at the frontier between Israel and the Gaza Strip since March last year, calling for the easing of an Israeli blockade on people and goods. Rallies have also demanded recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere to return to their ancestral homes in Israel.