Visiting the southern Israeli town which has been subject to almost daily rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the top United Nations human rights official today saw the impact of such strikes first-hand when a rocket exploded a few hundred yards away from her.
Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who then went to the site of the rocket impact in Sderot, said she could understand the sense of vulnerability and despair among the town’s residents.
Ms. Arbour, who was on the second day of a five-day tour of the region, recalled that one of her main areas of concern was the protection of civilians, stressing that governments had a duty to shield their people, although within the bounds of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
Later in the day she travelled to Ramallah in the West Bank, where she met Palestinians human rights defenders. During the meeting they raised concerns about the restrictions on movement caused by the separation barrier, checkpoints and closures. Ms. Arbour saw parts of the barrier on her way to Ramallah.
Tomorrow the High Commissioner is scheduled to hold meetings with Israel officials, including members of the country’s Supreme Court.
Her visit to the region follows Israel’s deadly assault on 8 November in the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, when 19 Palestinians were killed and some 60 others injured during shelling of a residential area.
Yesterday, while touring Beit Hanoun, Ms. Arbour said “massive” human rights violations against civilians had taken place and called for an independent, credible and thorough inquiry to determine where responsibility lies for the deaths.
At least 82 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) began their latest offensive in the Gaza Strip near the end of last month. One Israeli woman was killed last week when a rocket struck Sderot.