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

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights office is citing possible war crimes by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in connection with a deadly raid by Israeli forces that freed four hostages over the weekend and killed hundreds of Palestinians.

Office spokesman Jeremy Laurence expressed concerns about possible violations of rules of proportionality, distinction and precaution by the Israeli forces in Saturday’s raid at the urban Nuseirat refugee camp.

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

Laurence said Palestinian armed groups who are holding hostages in densely populated areas are putting the lives of nearby civilians and the hostages at “added risks” from the hostilities.

“All these actions by both parties may amount to war crimes,” he told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“It was catastrophic, the way that this was carried out in that civilians — again — were caught smack bang in the middle of this,” Laurence added.

Alluding 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’s a breach of international humanitarian law. They must be freed. All of them. Promptly.”

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

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

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

Israel launched its war against Hamas after the group's stunning Oct. 7 attack, in which the militants stormed into southern Israel, killed about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and took about 250 hostage.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 36,730 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Palestinians are facing widespread hunger because the war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies. U.N. agencies say over 1 million in Gaza could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.

Jamey Keaten, The Associated Press