Israel’s claims that Hamas is using Palestinians as human shields is once again gaining momentum following the discovery of rockets in a vacant school between two other U.N. schools being used as shelters.
The second such discovery at a vacant U.N. school in Gaza in a week, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said the rockets were found in between two other UNRWA schools that are being used to host 1,500 displaced people.
‘The agency immediately informed the relevant parties and is pursuing all possible measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school,’ the agency said in a statement.
‘UNRWA will launch a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident.’
As soon as the rockets were discovered, UNRWA staff withdrew from the area for the ‘flagrant violation’ of its status.
It has long been the Israeli case that the militants deliberately store weapons in residential areas and that is why they are forced to bomb such areas, although the Arab League accuses Israel of war crimes by responding indiscriminately.
Today the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive.
Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.
Citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the coastal enclave, she said: ‘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.
‘Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated,’ Pillay said in some of her strongest comments on the conflict.
The Geneva rights forum convened the special one-day session at the request of the Palestinians, Egypt and Pakistan.
Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming cooperation in October. Its main ally the United States, a member state, has also said Israel is unfairly singled out.
Israel’s claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields are difficult to prove.
‘It would be impossible at this point to say how much truth there is to the human shield argument,’ said Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told CNN.
That’s not going to be possible to do in the heat of the conflict.’
Offering the first glimmer of hope for a Gaza cease-fire, the United States today said negotiations to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas militants are making some progress even if an end to more than two weeks of bloodshed is nowhere near.
‘We certainly have made steps forward,’ U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Jerusalem, where he was meeting for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. ‘There’s still work to be done.’
He did not offer any specifics about the progress he cited in his third day of talks with Mideast leaders. He was in Jerusalem shortly after landing in Tel Aviv on an Air Force jet – one day after the FAA banned commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of a Hamas rocket attack nearby.
The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But the U.N. does not, and Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.
‘We don’t have much time to wait and lose,’ Ban told reporters before the meeting with Kerry. Neither Ban nor Kerry answered media questions during their brief remarks.
Kerry also offered ‘profound gratitude’ to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who spontaneously lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American citizen who grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and was killed in the fighting. ‘That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,’ Kerry said.
Kerry also planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during what appeared to be a crucial day in the talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Overnight Israeli forces pounded multiple sites across the Gaza Strip, including the enclave’s sole power plant, and said it was meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists, as diplomats sought to end the bloodshed.
In a blow to Israel’s economy, U.S. and European air carriers halted flights in and out of Tel Aviv citing security worries after a militant rocket from Gaza hit a house near the airport. Israel urged a re-think, saying its airspace was safe.