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UN says Israeli forces may have committed 'war crimes' at Gaza border

New report says that the killing of largely unarmed Palestinian protesters 'may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity'
A Palestinian demonstrator during protests (AFP)

The killing of hundreds of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border in the last year might be categorised as war crimes, UN investigators have suggested.

More than 250 Palestinians were killed and 26,000 injured since "Great March of Return" protests began in March 2018.

'To finally see that the Israeli forces will be held accountable for part of their crimes, it gives me some hope that there is a fair world out there'

- Raghad Fadel, 22, living in Gaza

The new report said that the killing of largely unarmed protesters "may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity".

"The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities," the panel report said.

The panel had confidential information about those believed to be responsible for the killings, including snipers and commanders, which was being given to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for her to share with the International Criminal Court (ICC), it said.

Mustafa Abu Assi, a 29-year-old engineer living in Gaza, welcomed the report on Thursday, saying he "totally agreed" with the UN's assessment.

"I think that what we faced in Palestine exceeds war crimes," Abu Assi told Middle East Eye by email.

Raghad Fadel, a 22-year-old who is currently unemployed, said after growing accustomed to being treated by the world as "nothing more than numbers and collateral damage", the report offered her some hope.

"We get killed every day for simply asking for our right to take back what was stolen from our grandparents," said Fadel, also by email. 

"To finally see that the Israeli forces will be held accountable for part of their crimes, it gives me some hope that there is a fair world out there and one day, we will be free."

Adalah, a legal group for Israel's Palestinian minority, said the report was a "scathing indictment of the Israeli government on all fronts".

War on Want, an NGO based in London, welcomed the UN report and urged the British government to stop selling arms to Israel. 

"The UK government has continued to trade in arms with Israel, providing material support to a state which uses military force brutally and unlawfully against an occupied people, despite major concerns from human rights groups, the UN, and the International criminal courts," Ryvka Barnard, War on Want senior campaigner.

"The UK government has an obligation to act. It must not continue trading arms with a state found to be committing war crimes that are both historic and ongoing."

Great March of return

Protests have been held at the frontier between Israel and the Gaza Strip since last year, calling for the easing of an Israeli blockade of the territory and recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees there to return to homes in Israel.

Israel has said its forces opened fire to protect the frontier from incursions and attacks by armed militants.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched Israeli special forces operation within the Gaza Strip.

Israel maintains a crippling blockade of Gaza which critics say amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished enclave's two million residents.

Egypt also upholds the siege, restricting movement in and out of Gaza on its border.