The use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators by the Israeli military in Gaza may constitute war crimes, Human Rights Watch has said.
At least 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli fire along the border since near-weekly protests began on 30 March.
The demonstrators have been calling for a “right to return” to their ancestral homes which are now in Israel.
Human Rights Watch said the majority of the dead and wounded were unarmed and posed no immediate threat to Israeli troops or civilians.
As such, the group contended the use of live fire suggests a violation of international law.
The statement was issued ahead of an emergency United Nations General Assembly meeting to vote on a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force”.
Earlier this month, a similar Security Council resolution was vetoed by the United States. The country’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, said it was “fundamentally imbalanced” and “grossly one-sided”.
Human Rights Watch said eyewitnesses reported seeing Palestinians shot from a great distance from border fences, and others who “had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers” being shot from a closer range.
Israel has been accused of committing war crimes in each of its three wars in the Gaza Strip in the last decade.
Last month, the Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to launch an investigation into Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of systemic crimes.
Israel has called the Palestinian move “legally invalid”. The country is not a member of the ICC and has argued that the court does not have jurisdiction.
The ICC has conducted a preliminary investigation since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including West Bank settlement construction and war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza.
Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director called on the international community to “impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives”.
“The UN Human Rights Council inquiry should identify and call for sanctions against officials implicated in ongoing serious human rights violations,” Sarah Leah Whitson said.