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The UN says Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes in a deadly attack

GENEVA – The U.N. human rights office is citing possible war crimes by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in connection with a deadly attack by Israeli forces that freed four hostages and killed hundreds of Palestinians last weekend.

Spokesman Jeremy Laurence expressed concern about possible violations of the rules of proportionality, distinction and precaution by the Israeli forces during Saturday’s raid on the Nuseirat urban refugee camp.

Palestinian health officials say at least 274 Palestinians were killed in the operation, including dozens of women and children.

Laurence said Palestinian armed groups holding hostages in densely populated areas expose the lives of nearby civilians and the hostages to “additional risks” as a result of the hostilities.

“All these actions by both sides could amount to war crimes,” he told a regular UN briefing in Geneva.

“It was catastrophic, the way this was carried out, with civilians caught – again – in the middle of this situation,” Laurence added.

Referring to the “ordeal” faced by hostages and their families, he said: “The fact that four hostages are now free is clearly very good news. These hostages should never have been taken in the first place. That is a violation of international humanitarian law. They must be released. All. Immediately.”

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The Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva criticized UN human rights chief Volker Türk, saying the “high commissioner has finally realized that Hamas is using Palestinians as human shields.”

“But instead of taking a clear and consistent stand against this abhorrent strategy, he falls back into the habit of slandering Israel,” the statement said. “This time for saving our hostages.”

The Associated Press could not immediately reach the rights office for comment.

Israel began its war against Hamas after the group’s stunning attack on October 7, in which the militants stormed into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking about 250 hostage.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 36,730 people, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which makes no distinction between fighters and civilians in its count.

Palestinians face widespread hunger as the war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies. UN agencies say more than 1 million people in Gaza could experience the highest levels of famine by mid-July.

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