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A top UN human rights official has described Israel’s Gaza onslaught as a war crime and proposed that the security council should set up a tribunal to establish accountability.

In a report submitted to the UN human rights council on Thursday, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk described the attacks as a ‘massive assault on a densely populated urbanised setting.’

The population was subjected to ‘an inhumane form of warfare that kills, maims and inflicts mental harm,’ he declared.

Mr Falk observed that, under the Geneva Conventions, if warring forces cannot distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilians, ‘launching the attacks is inherently unlawful and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law.

‘On the basis of the preliminary evidence available, there is reason to reach this conclusion,’ he added.

Israel’s violations included ‘targeting of schools, mosques and ambulances’ and its use of weapons including white phosphorus.

Mr Falk also accused Hamas guerillas of committing war crimes by firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.

He emphasised that the Gaza border blockade enforced by Tel Aviv was not legally justified and may represent a ‘crime against peace,’ a principle established at the Nuremberg trials of nazi war criminals.

Noting that Israel has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the International Criminal Court, Mr Falk suggested that the UN security council should set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to establish accountability.

He gave the same death toll from Israel’s December and January offensive as the Palestinian Human Rights Centre – 1,434 Palestinians, 960 of whom were civilians.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed by rockets fired into Israel.

Tel Aviv disputes the Palestinian death-toll figures and accuses Hamas fighters in Gaza of using civilians as human shields.

But it has been forced to order an investigation into alleged war crimes by the army after the Haaretz newspaper quoted Israeli soldiers owning up to atrocities.

One soldier described how a sniper had shot dead a mother and her two children from the roof of a house after soldiers on the ground floor had failed to inform him that he should hold fire because they were ordering the families living in the building to leave.

‘The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers,’ the squad leader said.

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