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UN human rights chief questions legality of Israel’s air campaign

July 11, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
As the Palestinian death toll climbed past 100, the United Nations human rights office voiced concern that Israel’s air campaign may violate international law. The Israeli military defended its air strikes on Gaza and Israel’s prime minister said the offensive against Hamas would go on. Hamas continued to fire rockets and warned airlines to stay away from a major airport. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The battle between Israel and Hamas headed into the weekend today with no sign of a slowdown, as the Palestinian death toll topped 100. The two sides again traded heavy airstrikes and rocket fire, with the Israelis vowing to press their offensive, and Hamas insisting it wouldn’t give in.

The early morning light showed chaos in Gaza after another Israeli airstrike. They were hitting roughly every five minutes today. Later in the day, streets in Gaza City were mostly empty. Shops were locked up and people stayed inside to keep safe.

UMM AL-ABED (through interpreter): The situation is very bad and not normal. People in the month of Ramadan used to visit each other. But now, because of the atmosphere of war, people are afraid to go out and they’re not earning money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Protests against Israel’s actions grew across the world, from marches in Jordan, to rallies in Indonesia, where Palestinian flags waved high above the crowds. And, as the list of the dead mounted, the U.N. human rights office warned the Israeli air campaign may be illegal.

RAVINA SHAMDASANI, Spokeswoman, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: It’s very specific in international law that unless the homes are being used for military purposes, in case of doubt, such homes are presumed not to be legitimate military targets. So if there is even an iota of a doubt, these are not legitimate military targets.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the Israeli military insisted its airstrikes on Gaza are well-thought-out.

BENNY GANTZ, Chief of Staff, Israel Defense Forces (through interpreter): We are using all our offensive abilities, not without reasoning, not without thinking, not without taking into account there are civilians in Gaza.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the military offensive against Hamas will go on.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through translator): No international pressure will prevent us acting with all our force against a terror organization that is calling for our destruction. We will continue to forcefully attack anyone who is trying to hurt us. We will continue to defend with both determination and wisdom our home front, the citizens of Israel.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, Hamas kept firing rockets into Israel, more than 600 over the last four days. Israel says it has shot down at least 110 with its Iron Dome system. Hamas warned airlines to stay away from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, saying it’s a potential target. But airlines continued to fly in.

One rocket also hit a gas station in Ashdod that sent a heavy black cloud wafting over the port city.

MUSHIR AL MASRI, Hamas spokesman (through interpreter): It’s too early to talk about a cease-fire under the crimes of the occupation. Today, the talk is about the bravery of our people and the steadfastness of the resistance in the face of the Zionist occupation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli troops were massed along the Gaza border, but Prime Minister Netanyahu wouldn’t say if or when a ground invasion might begin.