Palestinians ‘caged in a toxic slum‘ – UN

Israel used “wholly disproportionate” force against Palestinian border protests, which have left over 100 people dead, a UN official says.

A Palestinian demonstrator walks in the billowing smoke during clashes with Israeli forces along the border of the Gaza strip. Photo: AFP

United Nations human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein told a meeting in Geneva that Gazans were effectively “caged in a toxic slum” and Gaza‘s occupation by Israel had to end.

Israel‘s ambassador said Gaza‘s militant Islamist rulers had deliberately put people in harm‘s way.

The UN‘s Human Rights Council voted to set up an independent investigation.

in the seventh consecutive week of border protests, largely orchestrated by Hamas, which politically controls the Gaza Strip.

It was the deadliest day in Gaza since a 2014 war between Israel and militants there.

The protests had been dubbed the Great March of Return, in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to land they or their ancestors fled from or were forced to leave in the war which followed Israel‘s founding in 1948.

Palestinian demonstrators shout slogans during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza city. Photo: AFP

The Israeli government, which has long ruled out a mass return of Palestinians, said terrorists wanted to use the protests as cover to cross into its territory and carry out attacks.

While most Palestinians had demonstrated at a distance from the border, others threw rocks and incendiary devices towards the fence and tried to break through.

Israel‘s troops responded with what it calls “riot dispersal means”, such as tear gas, and live fire which Israel permits under certain circumstances. This includes when there is a threat to soldiers‘ lives and when attempts are made to break down the fence.

Mr Zeid told the emergency session on Gaza that the “stark contrast in casualties on both sides is… suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response” by Israel.

An Israeli soldier was “reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone” on Monday, he said, while 43 Palestinians were killed at the site of the protests. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed away from what he called the “hot spots”.

He said there had been “little evidence of any [Israeli] attempt to minimise casualties”. Its actions may “constitute ‘wilful killings‘ – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, an international law designed to protect civilians under occupation.

“The occupation must end so the people of Palestine can be liberated, and the people of Israel liberated from it,” he said.

Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. Although it withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005, the UN still considers the territory occupied because Israel retains control over the territory‘s air space, coastal waters and shared border.