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Israeli forces bomb al-Wafa Hospital in Gaza City

July 23, 2014 1:54 P.M. (Updated: July 23, 2014 11:50 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli warplanes on Wednesday bombed a central Gaza City hospital after the army claimed militants opened fire from the premises, while a UN human rights chief warned that abuses by Hamas did not justify possible war crimes by Israel.

The Israeli military said in a statement that they had "targeted specific sites" in the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital compound "in light of several occasions in which fire was opened" and "despite repeated warnings against such activities."

The military last bombed the hospital on Thursday, forcing doctors and patients -- 14 of whom were paralyzed or in a coma -- to flee the premises.

The Israeli military has repeatedly claimed hospitals are being used as launching grounds for Palestinian militants, giving those inside only minutes to flee before subjecting them to bombing raids and shelling.

On Monday, Israeli shells left four dead and wounded 60 at the al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah.

The military said that on Wednesday warnings were also given for civilians to vacate the hospital, adding that "warnings have been conveyed directly to the hospital administration and other Palestinian officials."

"The hospital grounds and its immediate surroundings have been repeatedly utilized by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a command center, rocket launching site, and a post" for militants to fire at soldiers, the military added.

Reports in the Israeli media indicated around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday that Israel had given warning to Gaza's main hospital al-Shifa of an impending strike, but an Israeli army spokeswoman contacted by Ma'an denied the claims.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, later denied the claims as well.

The bombing comes on the 16th day of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, which has left more than 650 Palestinians dead, more than 4,000 injured, and more than 135,000 displaced in the coastal enclave of 1.7 million people.

The assault has left hospitals overflowing with injured amid a severe lack of medical supplies caused by the seven-year long siege of the Gaza Strip by Israel.

The attacks have also raised alarm around the world, as more than 50 mosques have been bombed as well as thousands of homes.

Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip could amount to war crimes, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said Wednesday.

"There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Pillay told an emergency session on Israel's Gaza offensive at the UN Human Rights Council, citing attacks that have killed Palestinian civilians, including children.

Pillay added that the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas does not justify war crimes on the Israeli side.

She also said Israeli children and other civilians also had a right to live without constant fear of rocket attacks.

"Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups," she said.

The 46-nation council -- which is the United Nations' top human rights forum -- was poised to call for an international inquiry into Israel's offensive in the Palestinian territories.

The meeting was called by Arab and fellow Muslim-majority nations.

It was set to vote on a resolution lodged by Palestine -- which has observer status at the UN -- condemning "the widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" since Israel launched its crackdown last month to stem rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

The resolution also called on the international community to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry" tasked with probing "all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip."

The aim, it said, was to "establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular, on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults."

It also called for the "immediate International Protection for the Palestinian people" and requested that Switzerland, as guardian of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in warfare, organize an urgent conference on the situation in the region.

The Gaza offensive, which marks the worst Israeli assault on Gaza since two attacks in 2008-9 and 2012, has already claimed the lives of 650 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 31 Israelis, all but two of whom were soldiers.

"The right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation cannot justify the launching of thousands of rockets and mortars directed against Israeli civilians," the UN's rights monitor for the region, Makarim Wibisono, told the session.

"Rockets attacks cannot justify the disproportionate use by Israel of air, sea and ground firepower against targets, including tunnels and rocket launchers, amidst a population of 1.7 million people trapped in one of the most densely populated areas of the world," he added.

AFP contributed to this report.
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