UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Palestinian officials flexed their legal rights against Israel under the territory's bolstered international status on Thursday as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned rocket fire into Israel and civilian deaths in Gaza from excessive force.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told the U.N. Security Council that the international community was obliged to ensure protection of Palestinian civilians under the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations.
"Israel has clearly violated and abdicated its responsibility as an occupying power to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilian population under its occupation," he told a meeting of the 15-member council that Ban requested.
He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Switzerland - as the depository for Geneva Conventions - to convene a meeting of the parties to the 4th Geneva Convention on the protection of civilian persons in time of war.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor told the Security Council Israel was taking great measures to avoid harming civilians as it carries out a military operation "to remove the threat posed by Hamas by dismantling its military infrastructure."
"The Israeli Defence Forces warns Palestinians in Gaza of imminent strikes. At the same time, Hamas instructs these civilians to stand on the roof of buildings and act as human shields," Prosor said.
"They are committing a double war crime: targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians," he said.
At least 76 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's Gaza offensive, Palestinian officials said on Thursday, and militants kept up rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and other cities in warfare showing no signs of ending soon. [ID:nL6N0PL0ZD]
Ban urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint, saying that "once again, Palestinian civilians are caught between Hamas' irresponsibility and Israel's tough response."
"I have consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. At the same time, the excessive use of force and endangering of civilian lives are also intolerable," Ban said. "I continue to condemn the rising number of civilian lives lost in Gaza."
The most recent hostilities were sparked three weeks ago by the kidnapping of three Jewish students in the occupied West Bank, who were later found dead. Then a teenage Palestinian was kidnapped and his burned body found in a Jerusalem forest.
Mansour said Palestinian officials want parties to the 4th Geneva Convention "to consider measures to uphold their obligations, under common Article 1 and Article 146 regarding penal sanctions for grave breaches, and enforce the Convention in Occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem."
Article 1 relates to ensuring respect for the convention and Article 146 requires that the parties "undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present convention."
The Palestinians acceded to the Geneva Conventions and 14 other international treaties and conventions earlier this year.
They were eligible to do so after the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians' status at the United Nations in 2012 from "observer entity" to "non-member state," a move widely seen as de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinians could eventually join the International Criminal Court and lodge complaints against Israel for its occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)