By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – Israel is carrying out criminal investigations into the killing of 11 Palestinians by Israeli forces at border protests in Gaza last year, Israeli officials said on Wednesday.
A United Nations human rights panel said two weeks ago that Israeli troops had killed 189 Palestinians and wounded more than 6,100 at protests from March 30 to December 31. Their actions may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, it said.
Senior Israeli officials, speaking to reporters in Geneva on Wednesday, rejected the finding that its forces may have committed war crimes.
The U.N. report also said Israel had opened criminal investigations in only five cases, including the death of four children.
But a senior Israeli official said an inquiry was held into each and every death. Israel had opened about 300 initial inquiries, and criminal investigations were underway related to 11 individuals, he said.
“If we find somebody violated the law there will be consequences as well. But for a war crime it needs to be intentional.”
Under Israeli rules of engagement, live fire can be used only if there is a real and imminent threat from individuals or a mob, and only as a last resort, the official said.
“Each and every bullet received authorisation of an experienced commander at the scene,” he said.
The Gaza protesters are demanding Israel ease a blockade of the enclave and recognise their right to return to lands their families fled or were forced from when Israel was founded in 1948.
Thirty-five children, two journalists and three “clearly-marked” paramedics were among those killed by Israeli forces, in violation of international humanitarian law, the U.N. panel said. Other victims included a double amputee in a wheelchair.
The senior Israeli official, asked about such killings, said: “The idea as policy is never aim fire at a journalist, women or children. But in course of events, somebody could be hit by mistake.”
Israel has said its forces opened fire to protect the border from incursions and attacks by armed militants.
The officials accused the U.N. investigators of having ignored the role of Hamas in inciting Palestinian civilians, deploying militants among the activists, and firing 1,300 rockets into Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the report and accused the U.N. Human Rights Council, which launched the investigation, of hypocrisy and lies fuelled by “an obsessive hatred for Israel”.
The Geneva forum is expected next week to back the panel’s findings, including a call for referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC), diplomats say. The Hague court has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of Israeli rights abuses on Palestinian territory in 2015.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)