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Rights body votes to beef up monitoring of Palestinian areas

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Medics move a wounded youth, 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)

GENEVA (AP) — The top U.N. human rights body on Friday requested a larger presence in Palestinian areas following an investigation that found Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes in a deadly response to Gaza protests last year.

The Human Rights Council made the request to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a resolution that passed 23-8 with 15 abstentions, a vote loaded with political implications that quickly drew accusations of bias from the Israeli government.

Five central and eastern European countries joined Australia, Fiji and Brazil in opposing the measure. Britain and many EU countries abstained. Several Gulf Arab countries, with which Israel has claimed warming ties, voted in favor.

The resolution was the strongest among five considered by the council focusing on Israel and "Occupied Palestinian Territory," the only "country situation" considered at every council meeting. The issue made up more than one-sixth of the 29 resolutions considered as the four-week session ended Friday.

The Trump administration last summer pulled out the United States, long one of Israel's strongest backers at the 47-member Geneva body, from the council, in part alleging it has an anti-Israel bias.

The resolution comes after a three-person team of investigators commissioned by the council late last month issued an extensive report on violence during a string of Palestinian protests along Gaza's border fence with Israel, which started nearly a year ago.

In it, the Independent Commission of Inquiry said Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crackdowns that left 189 people dead. The panel said over 6,000 people had been shot by military snipers using live ammunition to repel protesters.

"The Human Rights Council repeated today its absurd and hypocritical ritual of creating a Commission of Inquiry singling out Israel, whose findings against Israel are predetermined, and then adopting them, all the while ignoring the reality on the ground," Israel's Foreign Ministry said Friday.

"Israel will continue to exercise its right of self-defense and will protect its citizens against terror and aggression," it said.

The Israeli government did not cooperate with the authors of the report.

Medics move a wounded youth, 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)
Medics move a wounded youth, 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)