The continued killing and maiming of civilians in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory could constitute war crimes, the UN's human rights chief said on Wednesday.
"International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligation to protect civilians during hostilities," Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights said in a strong-worded statement.
"This obligation is also expressed in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity," she said.
The high commissioner also called for accountability for any breaches of international law in the conflict areas.
"International law demands accountability. The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control," she said.
In the statement, Arbour expressed "grave concern over the continued killing and maiming of civilians in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory."
She recalled that parties to a conflict have the obligation to exercise precaution and respect the principle of proportionality in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population.
"Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians," she said. "Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable."
The high commissioner also warned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, in particular in southern Lebanon, where the population is reported to be increasingly deprived of access to basic services due to the violence.
"The situation in the south of Lebanon is alarming," she said. "A large and steadily increasing number of persons have been forcibly displaced. The most basic human rights of the population are at risk or are being violated, including their rights to life, health and food."
The unrestricted and secure passage of all humanitarian assistance, including rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers should be ensured as a matter of priority, she added.