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GENEVA — United Nations investigators said on Thursday that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests in Gaza last year.
The independent panel said it had confidential information about those it believes to be responsible for the killings, including snipers and commanders.
“The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities,” it said in its report.
Israel rejected the report as a “theater of the absurd.”
In a statement, acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz called it “another hostile, mendacious and slanted report against the State of Israel … No one can deny Israel the right of self-defense and the obligation to defend its citizens and borders from violent attacks.”
Protests have been held at the frontier between Israel and the Gaza Strip since last year, calling for the easing of an Israeli blockade of the territory and recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees there to return to homes in Israel.
Israel has said its forces opened fire to protect the frontier from incursions and attacks by armed militants.
The latest report, covering the period from March 30-December 31 2018, to the U.N. Human Rights Council was based on hundreds of interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as medical records, video and drone footage, and photographs.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet should share the findings with the International Criminal Court (ICC), it said. The Hague-based court opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of Israeli human rights abuses on Palestinian territory in 2015.
The Gaza Strip is home to 2 million Palestinians, the majority of them stateless descendants of people who fled or were driven out of Israel on its founding in 1948.
The panel, led by Argentine legal expert Santiago Canton, said individual members of the Israeli security forces killed and gravely injured civilians who were “neither directly participating in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat”.
“Some of these violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity and must be immediately investigated by Israel,” Canton said.
Thirty-five children, two journalists and three “clearly-marked” paramedics were among those killed by Israeli forces, in violation of international humanitarian law, the report said.
In the ongoing border protests dubbed ‘The Great March of Return’, Gazans are calling for the right to return to lands from which their ancestors fled or were forced to flee.
Protesters are also calling for an end to a grinding Israeli-led blockade of Gaza which the World Bank says has reduced the territory to a state of economic collapse.
The coastal enclave is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the West and has fought three wars with Israel.