Ex-UN rights boss to head probe into Israel, Hamas alleged crimes

Israel and Hamas cease fire across the Gaza Strip
FILE PHOTO: Palestinians walk past the ruins of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the recent cross-border violence between Palestinian militants and Israel, in Gaza May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

July 22, 2021

GENEVA (Reuters) -Former United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay will head an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council said in a statement on Thursday.

The council agreed in late May to open the investigation with a broad mandate to cover allegations not just in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but also in Israel during hostilities that were halted by a May 21 ceasefire.

At least 250 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel were killed in the fierce fighting, which saw Gaza militants fire rockets towards Israeli cities and Israel carry out air strikes across the coastal enclave.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the council at the time that deadly Israeli strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.

Israel on Thursday reiterated its rejection of the probe.

“Not surprisingly, the purpose of this mechanism is to find Israeli violations, while whitewashing the crimes committed by Hamas, a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip,” Israel’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva said in a statement.

“As Israel announced immediately following the special session, it cannot and will not cooperate with such an investigation,” it said.

Pillay, a former South African judge who served as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014, will lead the three-person panel also composed of Indian expert Miloon Kothari and Australian expert Chris Sidoti, the Human Rights Council statement said.

The investigators, who have been asked to try to identify those responsible for violations with a view to ensure they are held accountable, are due to present their first report in June 2022.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool)