UN-backed commission says Israel committed 'war crimes, crimes against humanity' in Gaza

Israeli authorities are responsible for "war crimes and crimes against humanity committed" during the military operations and attacks in Gaza since Oct. 7, a UN-backed commission on Wednesday said in a new report.

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry found that Israeli authorities are responsible for "the war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer, sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment, arbitrary detention and outrages upon personal dignity."

The commission found that "the crimes against humanity of extermination, gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys, murder, forcible transfer, and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment" were also committed.

The extensive civilian casualties and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure in Gaza were "the inevitable result of a strategy undertaken with intent to cause maximum damage, disregarding the principles of distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions."

The intentional use of heavy weapons with large destructive capacity in densely populated areas constitutes "an intentional and direct attack on the civilian population," it added.

Regarding the statements made by Israeli officials, the report said their remarks "amounted to incitement and may constitute other serious international crimes," adding that direct and public incitement to genocide is a crime under international law whenever perpetrated.

The commission also evaluated the evacuation orders issued by Israel, calling them "insufficient, unclear and conflicting, and did not provide adequate time for safe evacuations."

"Furthermore, the evacuation routes and the areas designated as safe were consistently attacked by Israeli forces," it said and added: "All of this, the Commission determined, amounted to forcible transfer."

Israel also imposed a "total siege," which "amounts to collective punishment" against the civilian population, according to the commission. "Israeli authorities have weaponized the siege and used the provision of life-sustaining necessities, including by severing water, food, electricity, fuel and humanitarian assistance, for strategic and political gains."

It stressed that the siege has "disproportionately impacted" pregnant women and persons with disabilities, with "serious harm inflicted on children leading to preventable child deaths from starvation including newborns."

Regarding the acts in the West Bank, the commission found that Israel committed "acts of sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, all of which are war crimes."

Moreover, the commission determined that the Israeli government, as well as the Israeli military, "permitted, fostered and instigated" a pattern of settler aggression directed against Palestinian communities within the West Bank.

UN inquiry to Israel: Cease attacks, implement ICJ decisions

In its recommendations, the commission urged Israel to take immediate action, including implementing a cease-fire, ending the blockade of Gaza, ensuring delivery of humanitarian supplies, and ceasing attacks on civilians and infrastructure.

It also called on Tel Aviv to "comply fully" with its legal obligations set forth in the International Court of Justice orders on provisional measures issued on Jan. 26, March 28 and May 24 and, in particular, allow the commission access to Gaza to conduct investigations.

It also recommended that all state parties to the Rome Statute cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court.

"Israel must immediately stop its military operations and attacks in Gaza, including the assault on Rafah, which has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and again displaced hundreds of thousands of people to unsafe locations without basic services and humanitarian assistance," Navi Pillay, chair of the commission, said in a press release.

UN inquiry to Hamas: Cease rocket attacks on Israel, unconditionally release hostages

In relation to Oct. 7 attack in Israel, the commission found that the military wing of Hamas and six other Palestinian armed groups, are responsible for "the war crimes of intentionally directing attacks against civilians, murder or wilful killing, torture, inhuman or cruel treatment, destroying or seizing the property of an adversary, outrages upon personal dignity, and taking hostages, including children."

It underlined that the "indiscriminate firing of thousands of projectiles towards Israeli towns and cities resulting in death and injury of civilians are also violations of international humanitarian and human rights law."

It urged the government of the State of Palestine and the de-facto authorities in Gaza to "immediately cease all rocket attacks on Israel, unconditionally release all hostages, and thoroughly and impartially investigate violations and prosecute those responsible for crimes, including those committed on and since 7 October by members of Palestinian non-State armed groups in Israel."

"Hamas and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease rocket attacks and release all hostages. The taking of hostages constitutes a war crime," Pillay said.

Stressing that it is imperative that all those who have committed crimes be held accountable, she said: "The only way to stop the recurring cycles of violence, including aggression and retribution by both sides, is to ensure strict adherence to international law."

The commission's report will be presented to the Human Rights Council’s 56th session on June 19 in Geneva. It is based on interviews with victims and witnesses conducted remotely and during a mission to Türkiye and Egypt, with thousands of open-source items verified through advanced forensic analysis, hundreds of submissions, satellite imagery, and forensic medical reports, according to the commission.

"Israel obstructed the commission’s investigations and prevented its access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory," it noted.