GENEVA - A UN human rights expert on Thursday said Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip during its recent offensive there raised "the spectre of systematic war crimes" and needed to be investigated.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, said he had little doubt about the "unavoidably inhuman character of a large scale military operation of the sort that Israel has initiated... against an essentially defenceless population."
Falk told journalists that Israeli military operations in the densely populated territory among a population weakened by an 18 month blockade "raises the spectre of systematic war crimes."
"Unlawful targets have been selected" during the fighting, he said.
"The evidence of breaking of fundamental rules of international humanitarian law is so compelling," he added, backing calls for an independent, international investigation.
Falk, a legal expert, said that the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip was effectively trapped in a war zone and prevented from fleeing, even if they were ill, wounded, or children.
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted by a large majority on January 12 to set up a probe into "grave" human rights violations by Israeli forces against Palestinians.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians and nearly a third of them children, were killed and 5,300 wounded by the 22-day Israeli offensive.
Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed in Israel during the same period.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated Wednesday his demand for a full explanation of "outrageous" Israeli attacks on UN facilities in the Gaza Strip including a school used as a refuge for civilians.
Palestinian justice minister meets ICC prosecutor
Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Kashan met International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo Thursday to discuss the situation in Gaza, a court official said.
"The Palestinian justice minister came to The Hague today," said Beatrice le Fraper, a special advisor to the prosecutor,.
They had "a long discussion ... which included allegations of crimes committed in Gaza".
The court started work in 2002 as the world's first permanent tribunal on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
It can put an individual on trial if the alleged crime was committed on the territory of, or by a national of, a signatory to the Rome Statute which created the court, or if requested by a state party, which Israel is not.
The prosecutor could start an investigation into the Gaza situation at the request of the United Nations Security Council, or if Israel were to voluntarily accept the court's jurisdiction.
The International Federation of Human Rights and Amnesty International have accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza.