UN envoy ‘deeply disturbed’ at killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli military

Terje Roed-Larsen

Saying he is “deeply disturbed” by recent Israeli military attacks which have left at least a dozen Palestinian civilians dead, the senior United Nations Middle East envoy today called for action to protect innocents on both sides of the conflict.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, urged the Israeli Government to investigate the incidents in question and prosecute those responsible, and welcomed the announcement by Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer that a speedy inquiry will be conducted.

The envoy’s statement came in response to a number of events, including the killing of four family members in the Gaza Strip by Israeli tank fire, four children by a helicopter-fired missile in the West Bank, and four workers shot near Hebron. “At least 15 civilians have also been wounded in these incidents,” Mr. Roed-Larsen noted.

Israel’s “prolific use” of tank and helicopter munitions in areas with heavy civilian presence has frequently caused significant civilian casualties, the envoy said. He added that the “flechette” ammunition, which Israeli newspapers reported had been used in the Gaza incident is characterized by “thousands of small darts designed to maximize injury and death.”

“Military action that fails to take reasonable measures to minimize civilian casualties is a violation of international law,” Mr. Roed-Larsen stressed.

The statement also noted that the current conflict has been marked by the deaths of innocents on both sides. “I have consistently condemned the suicide bombings by Palestinian groups as morally reprehensible acts of mass murder,” he said. “Such attacks, however, are no validation for the killing of more innocents.”

The envoy reminded the Israeli and Palestinian authorities that “whatever the threat,” both must act in accordance with the standards of conduct proscribed by international law. “No justification can be offered for the intentional or unintentional killing of civilians,” he said.