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U.N. human rights chief says Israel, Hamas may be guilty of war crimes in Gaza

Hamas militants parade through Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip during an anti-Israel rally on May 28. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

May 27 (UPI) -- The United Nations human rights chief said Thursday that Israel's attacks on Hamas over 11 days in Gaza this month could amount to war crimes.

During a Human Rights Council meeting in Switzerland, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for an investigation into root causes that caused the conflict.

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The fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group killed more than 200 people and resulted in significant structural damage across Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused for days to let up on the shelling in the face of widespread international criticism, until Egypt helped broker a cease-fire a week ago.

Bachelet on Thursday condemned Israel for the strikes and Hamas for retaliating with rocket fire into Israel.

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"Such strikes raise serious concerns of Israel's compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law," Bachelet said in a statement.

"If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes."

Bachelet added that Hamas likely broke international law by locating and firing military assets from densely populated civilian areas. She said an investigation must work to identify "systematic discrimination and repression" in Israel and Palestine.

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Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, expressed concerns that an inquiry might seek to shift the blame to Israel and whitewash the role of Hamas.

"This terrorist organization fired more than 4,400 rockets at Israeli civilians," Shahar said in a statement.

"The rockets were fired by Hamas from Palestinian homes, hospitals, and schools. Each one of these rockets constitutes a war crime. Each one of these rockets constitutes a tragedy."

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U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the fighting but noted Israel's right to defend itself. This week, he sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a diplomatic tour through the Middle East that included stops in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. During the visits, he met with Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

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