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UN votes to send war crimes investigators to Gaza

UN Human Rights Council decides to urgently dispatch experts to probe Israel's killing of Palestinians in Gaza.

Michael Lynk, UN rights expert

The United Nations' top human rights body has voted to send a team of international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces.

A resolution calling on the UN Human Rights Council to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry" was backed on Friday by 29 members.

The members - United States and Australia - voted against and 14 abstained.

Investigators must "investigate all alleged violations and abuses ... in the context of the military assaults on large scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018", the approved resolution said. 

The commission of inquiry will be asked to produce a final report next March.  

Earlier on Friday, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN human rights chief, had backed calls for an international probe.

He heavily criticised Israel's response to the weeks-long mass protests in the Gaza Strip as "wholly disproportionate".

Israel was an occupying power and under international law, it was obliged to protect the people of Gaza and ensure their welfare, he said. But instead Gaza residents were "caged in a toxic slum from birth to death", added Zeid.  

At least 62 Palestinians were killed and thousands were wounded in a single day of protests on Monday, but Zeid pointed out that "on the Israeli side, one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone".

"There is little evidence of any attempt to minimise casualties on Monday," said Zeid. 

Since protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children. More than 12,000 have been wounded, at least 3,500 by live ammunition. 

Speaking to the session via a video recording, Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestine, said Israel's use of force may amount to "a war crime". 

Both Israel and the United States rejected the council's resolution, saying Hamas, which rules Gaza, instigated the violence - an allegation the group denies.

Israel has defended the killing of protesters, saying it was acting in self-defence to protect its borders and communities. In a statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said the council was "dominated by hypocrisy and absurdity". 

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters in the Gaza Strip continued rallying near the fence with Israel on Friday. 

Some two million people live in the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory that shares borders with Egypt and Israel.

Both countries maintain a blockade of Gaza for security reasons, a move the UN said has caused the territory's economy to collapse. 

On Thursday, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he has ordered the Rafah border crossing to be opened for the Muslim month of Ramadan "to ensure the easing of the burdens on the brothers in the Gaza Strip". 

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