By Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
AMMAN/GENEVA (Reuters) -The U.N. human rights chief on Friday called for an investigation into what he called Israel’s use of “high-impact explosive weapons” in Gaza, which he said was causing indiscriminate destruction in the besieged Palestinian enclave.
Volker Turk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Israel must end its use of such weapons in the densely populated area, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, half of whom have been displaced by fighting in the last month.
Turk did not specify what weapons he was referring to.
Asked for comment, Israel’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva said: “Israel abides by international humanitarian law at all times. Terrorists don’t.”
It added the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, has embedded itself in densely populated areas and was preventing civilians from leaving.
Israel’s air, sea and land bombardment of Gaza, accompanied now by a ground assault deep inside the territory, aims to destroy Hamas.
The Palestinian group killed 1,400 Israelis in a cross-border Oct. 7 attack, according to Israeli tallies, and the U.N. has said the assault involved war crimes. Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians according to health authorities in the Palestinian enclave.
“The extensive Israeli bombardment of Gaza, including the use of high-impact explosive weapons in densely populated areas … is clearly having a devastating humanitarian and human rights impact,” Turk told a news conference during a visit to Jordan’s capital Amman.
“The attacks must be investigated … We have very serious concerns that these amount to disproportionate attacks in breach of international humanitarian law.”
Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying the group uses the population as human shields and hides weapons and equipment around hospitals, which have been hit by bombardments.
“Any use by Palestinian armed groups of civilians and civilian objects to shield themselves from attack is in contravention of the laws of war,” Turk said. “But such conduct by Palestinian armed groups does not absolve Israel of its obligation to ensure that civilians are spared.”
Turk also said Israel must take immediate measures to protect Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, where violence is escalating between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Turk said at least 176 Palestinians, including 43 children and one woman, had been killed in incidents involving Israeli security forces since the beginning of October. At least eight Palestinians had been killed by Israeli settlers.
Israel has said it has been conducting counter-terrorism operations against militants from Hamas and other Palestinian armed factions in the West Bank.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Emma Farge in Geneva, Maytaal Angel in Jerusalem; writing by John Davison in Beirut; editing by Linda Pasquini, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)