The UN Human Rights Council yesterday agreed to launch an open-ended international investigation into violations and "systematic" abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories following 11 days of Israeli bombardment on the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The 47 members of the council voted in favour of the investigation with 24 states supporting the move, nine standing against it and 14 abstaining.
Opening the session in Geneva, the UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said Israel's attacks on Gaza this month could constitute war crimes if they were found to be disproportionate.
"There is no doubt that Israel has the right to defend its citizens and residents. However, Palestinians have rights too – the same rights," said Bachelet, a former president of Chile. "The death of and injury of children in this escalation is a source of shame for all."
At least 253 Palestinians were killed including 66 children and nearly 2,000 others were wounded during Israel's aggression on Gaza from 10-21 May.
She said two factors led to the escalation – the imminent forcible expulsion of Palestinians "under forced displacement" in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah; and Israel's use of "excessive force" against Palestinian protesters, including at the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
The proposal before the UN Human Rights Council called for an unprecedented level of scrutiny on abuses and their "root causes" in the "decades long Middle Eastern conflict."
Pakistan's UN Ambassador, Khalil Hashmi, who proposed the panel on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said it was needed to hold Israel accountable for decades of human rights violations in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
Before the vote, Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the UN, slammed the session as yet another example of the council's bias against Israel.
The resolution, she insisted, "has nothing to do with reality, has nothing to do with human rights."
A spokesman for Hamas welcomed the investigation, calling its own actions "legitimate resistance", and urging "immediate steps to punish" Israel.
The Palestinian Authority also welcomed the resolution, saying it amounted to "international recognition of Israel's systemic oppression and discrimination against the Palestinian people".
"This reality of apartheid and impunity can no longer be ignored," it added.