UN inquiry accuses Israel, Hamas of war crimes in Gaza conflict

The first report focused on the barrage of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on October 7th, which the COI said violated the laws of armed conflict and amounted to war crimes.

A United Nations inquiry has levelled an explosive accusation – both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas committed war crimes during the initial phases of their recent deadly conflict in Gaza. In a further damning charge, the UN investigators claimed Israel’s actions also amounted to crimes against humanity due to the staggering civilian toll.

The findings were contained in two parallel reports published on Wednesday by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry (COI), an independent body with an unusually broad mandate to collect evidence and identify perpetrators of international crimes committed in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The first report focused on the barrage of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on October 7th, which the COI said violated the laws of armed conflict and amounted to war crimes.

However, the second report was particularly scathing in its assessment of Israel’s military response, code-named Operation Protective Shield. While acknowledging Israel’s right to self-defence, the investigators accused Israeli forces of carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on densely populated civilian areas of Gaza.

The findings risk further inflaming tensions between Israel and the United Nations. Israel has long accused the COI of harbouring an anti-Israel bias, refusing to cooperate with its investigations or grant its members access to Israeli territory and the occupied West Bank.

For their part, Palestinian officials welcomed the inquiry’s conclusions, renewing calls for accountability and an end to the long-stalled peace process.

The UN investigators said they faced significant obstacles in their work, including Israel’s non-cooperation and the denial of access to conflict zones and other relevant sites. Nevertheless, the commission said it meticulously reviewed a vast trove of evidence, including satellite imagery, multimedia records, and interviews with victims, witnesses, and military experts.

While acknowledging violations by both sides, the report reserved its harshest criticism for Israel, citing incidents such as the bombing of a refugee camp that killed 27 civilians, including 11 children.

As the findings reverberate across the Middle East and capitals worldwide, they are likely to further polarize the already volatile debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether the damning UN accusations will catalyze renewed peace efforts or merely harden existing fault lines remains uncertain.