According to reports, Israeli forces undertook an aerial attack on a playground in Shati refugee camp on the beach front in Gaza City on Monday afternoon, killing at least 10 children and injuring at least 40 others. One hour earlier the very hospital that the injured from Shati refugee camp were transferred to - al-Shifa hospital – had also been hit by an Israeli strike; one of at least nine health facilities to be hit since 8 July. On Wednesday at least 19 Palestinian were killed and 90 injured when a United Nations (UN) girls’ school was shelled in the Gaza Strip. Last week, 15 people died and approximately 200 were wounded when a UN school in Beut Hanoun was hit. These accounts are mere samples of the Israeli attacks that have targeted civilians and civilian objects since 8 July and have claimed the lives of a devastating number of Palestinians.
According to customary international humanitarian law (IHL), the cardinal principle of distinction requires that the parties to a conflict always distinguish between civilians and civilian objectives on the one hand and combatants and military objectives on the other. Attacks may only be directed against combatants and military objectives. All persons and objects not falling into this category are entitled to protection against direct attacks, providing that they are not directly participating in hostilities. Intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is listed as a war crime in Article 8(2)(b)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In the face of on-going Israeli attacks against civilians and civilian objects in the Gaza Strip and taking into account the failure of the UN Security Council to bring about an end to the hostilities, PHROC calls upon the General Assembly (GA) to resume the emergency special session initiated in April 1997 in order to issue “appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures... to maintain or restore international peace and security", in accordance with the “Uniting for Peace” resolution 377 A.
Ultimately, we urge all States, and the GA, to act now to end the impunity which persists in so much of the world when it comes to such egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as have been documented in the Gaza Strip, both since 8 July 2014 and during “Operation Cast Lead” in January 2008 - December 2009 and “Operation Pillar of Defence” in November 2012. Continued impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious international crimes, including grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, represents a significant threat to international peace and security, a situation which the GA must rapidly act to overcome.