Updated May 20, 2021 - World

UN rights chief: Crisis in Gaza, Israel "has deteriorated at alarming rate"

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in Geneva in December 2020.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in Geneva in December 2020. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Saturday called for a de-escalation in fighting between Israel and Hamas, warning that the situation "has deteriorated at an alarming rate."

Why it matters: Bachelet said that actions carried out by both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants may amount to violations of international humanitarian law and therefore may be considered war crimes.

The big picture: The latest fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday following violence in Jerusalem over the planned evictions of six Palestinian families to make way for Israeli settlers.

  • At least 140 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including dozens of children, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed in Israel.
  • The UN said Friday that at least 10,000 people in Gaza have been displaced.
  • An Israeli airstrike on Saturday flattened a building housing the offices of AP, Al Jazeera and other media organizations.
  • This week has seen the worst inter-communal violence in Israel since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Protests have also erupted across the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have killed more than a dozen Palestinians, including one person the Israeli military said attempted to attack soldiers.

What she's saying: “I urge both sides to ensure strict respect for their obligations under international law," Bachelet said. "Israel, as the occupying power, has a duty to ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance to the Gaza strip."

  • “Rather than seeking to calm tensions, inflammatory rhetoric from leaders on all sides appears to be seeking to excite tensions rather than to calm them," she added.
  • "Once again, we are seeing lives lost and terrified people being forced to flee or hide in their homes, subjected to attacks that are being carried out by both sides in what may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
  • “Those found to be responsible for violations must be held to account.”

Bachelet said Israeli airstrikes and shelling into densely-populated areas have raised concerns that the Israeli military has targeted buildings that, under international humanitarian law, do not meet the requirements to be considered as military targets.

  • She also said that the indiscriminate firing of large numbers rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups into Israel into densely populated areas may violate international humanitarian law and would be considered war crimes.

What's next: The UN Security Council will meet on Sunday to address the crisis, the UN said.

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