With the number of civilians killed in Gaza rising by the day, the United Nations’ top human rights official warned that war crimes may have been committed in the fight between Israel and Hamas — a struggle that shows no signs of waning. At least 1,432 people have been killed in Gaza during the current conflict, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health — a figure that is higher than the 1,417 Palestinians that the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said died in the 22 days of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which spanned 2008 and 2009.
Those killed in the ongoing hostilities — which are tied to the Israeli military’s Operation Protective Edge — include 327 children and 166 women, the Gaza health ministry reports. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay sounded an alarm Thursday, July 31 about the high numbers of civilian casualties, as well as how they’ve occurred. She called for “real accountability considering the increasing evidence of war crimes.” Pillay specifically pointed to the six United Nations schools in Gaza that have been struck, resulting in civilians’ deaths.
The United Nations has blamed Israel for the strikes, but Israel says its military only responded to fire and did not target the schools. “The shelling and bombing of UN schools which have resulted in the killing and maiming of frightened women and children and civilian men, including UN staff, seeking shelter from the conflict are horrific acts and may possibly amount to war crimes,” Pillay said in a statement. Pillay didn’t excuse the Hamas militants, either. She once again condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel, and the placement of military assets close to densely populated areas.
But the biggest concern appeared to be the shelling of the schools. “If civilians cannot take refuge in UN schools, where can they be safe?” Pillay asked. “They leave their homes to seek safety — and are then subjected to attack in the places they flee to. This is a grotesque situation.” Another top U.N. official, Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, said there is a need for Israel and Hamas to comply with humanitarian and human rights law. “Each party must be held accountable to international standards; not the standards of the other party,” she said in remarks to the U.N. Security Council.
The calls for accountability didn’t just come from the United Nations. “Civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high. It is clear the Israelis need to do more” to prevent civilian deaths, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he’s hopeful there can be a ceasefire that will bring peace — even temporarily to the region. After more than three weeks of fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel would complete its goal of destroying Hamas’ network of tunnels with or without a cease-fire.
Netanyahu said this is just the first phase of the demilitarization of Gaza. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have died, according to the military, and three civilians have been killed in Israel since the conflict began. Many more citizens have been forced to take shelter, as rockets rained overhead. Still, the level of death and destruction doesn’t compare with what’s happening in Gaza, where health workers are struggling to deal with the relentless stream of dead and wounded.
UN calls for accountability in Gaza conflict