15 November 2006 – Condemning Israel’s recent military activities in the northern Gaza Strip, including the killing of 18 Palestinian civilians at Beit Hanoun, the United Nations Human Rights Council today called for urgent international action to end those incursions and voted to send a fact-finding mission to the region.
By 32 votes to eight, with six abstentions and one absence, Council members meeting at a special session in Geneva adopted a resolution expressing grave concern “at the continued violation by the occupying Power, Israel, of the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian territory.”
The resolution described Israel’s recent military incursions as “a collective punishment of the civilians” inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory and added that they will “exacerbate the severe humanitarian crisis” there.
It voiced particular concern at last week’s artillery shelling of a residential area in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, where 18 people were killed and about 60 others injured.
The special session was convened at the request of Bahrain’s Ambassador on behalf of the Group of Arab States and Pakistan’s Ambassador on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and was the third of its kind since the Council, which replaces the Commission on Human Rights, came into being earlier this year. All three special sessions have been held to consider Israeli actions.
Israel accused the Council of double standards and politicized decision-making, saying the 47-member body was conspicuously ignoring tragedies in other parts of the world.
Itzhak Levanon, Israel’s representative, told the Council meeting that his country was dismayed by the lack of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity being shown.
The Palestinian Authority and its Government deserved the blame because they did nothing to stop the firing of rockets at Israeli communities from Beit Hanoun, setting the stage for an inevitable Israeli response, he said.
Mr. Levanon added that those who fire rockets at Israeli civilians and had stored tons of weaponry must understand they cannot seek refuge behind women and children and that their behaviour bore a heavy price.
Also at today’s meeting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said she will soon visit Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where she plans to meet officials and receive briefings from both sides, civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as UN agencies.
In a statement, Ms. Arbour said her key concern would be to stress the obligation to protect civilians during any armed confrontation and the entitlement of both Palestinians and Israelis to live free from fear, want and harm.