Israel opens criminal probe of 11 deaths in Gaza violence

Mourners carry the body of Saif Abu Zaied, 15, during his funeral though the streets of Gaza City, Thursday, March 7, 2019. Gaza's Health Ministry said Abu Zaied died from Israeli gunfire during nighttime skirmishes along the Gaza-Israel frontier last night. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Relatives mourn while waiting for the body of Saif Abu Zaied, 15, during his funeral at his family house in Gaza City, Thursday, March 7, 2019. Gaza's Health Ministry said Abu Zaied died from Israeli gunfire during nighttime skirmishes along the Gaza-Israel frontier Wednesday. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Medics and relatives move a wounded teenager, who was shot by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, into the treatment room of Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Friday, March 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Mourners carry the body of Tamer Arafat, 23, during his funeral in front of his family house in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Arafat was shot in the head by Israeli troops during Friday protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel the Palestinian health ministry said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GENEVA — Israeli authorities have opened criminal investigations of the deaths of 11 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli fire during protests along the Gaza border in the past year, a senior Israeli official said Wednesday.

Israeli officials briefed journalists in Geneva to rebut allegations contained in a U.N. human rights report issued last week. The report alleges Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed crimes against humanity at the border, where live ammunition killed 189 people dead and injured more than 6,000 in violence that began last March.

The senior official said full-fledged criminal investigations in such cases are opened if "reasonable grounds" of suspicion of criminal misconduct are found. Critics say such investigations rarely result in prosecution of soldiers.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have sought to use the demonstrations as a way to press Israel to ease a crippling blockade, imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of the territory in 2007.

Israel has defended its tactics during the protests, saying it is protecting its sovereign border. It accuses Hamas militants of using the crowds for cover, and notes that demonstrators have launched firebombs, flaming tires and incendiary kites across the border.

But it has come under heavy criticism for the large number of unarmed people who have been shot, often far from the border. The U.N. report said 35 children were among those killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the report, which was mandated by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, after its release and accused the 47-member body of "an obsessive hatred of Israel."

Diplomatic efforts could lead to another of the Human Rights Council's many resolutions critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The council's current session ends March 22.

Israeli officials are also concerned the one-year anniversary of the upsurge of border protests on March 30 could spark new demonstrations.

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