US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called out the Iranian government on Thursday as "the patron and protector" of groups that use civilians as human shields in conflicts throughout the Middle East.
"Groups that Iran has sponsored or supported have perfected the tactic of using human shields," she told the UN Security Council, "and inspired others to do the same."
"Of course, this is part of Iran's overarching efforts to destabilize the region -- efforts that include illegal weapons shipments to Yemen, and invading Israeli air space with armed drones from Syrian territory," she added, blasting the Iranian government as the Trump administration is considering pulling out of an international nuclear agreement with Tehran.
In her remarks, Haley said the use of civilians as human shields in conflict is "a war crime" and an "outrageous practice (...) reaching epic proportions in the region."
She specifically called out ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas for their actions in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza respectively.
"Each time ISIS, Hezbollah, or Hamas succeeds in using a village, or a family, or a child, to protect its terrorist operations, the use of this grotesque tactic grows," said Haley.
Addressing the situation in Gaza, Haley cited the discovery of rockets in Hamas tunnels under schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) last year, adding, "Hamas has exploited and endangered the very Palestinian people it claims to represent by locating rocket launchers near schools, apartment buildings, hotels, churches, and UN facilities."
UNRWA condemned the placement of the rockets and tunnels at the time. The Trump administration announced earlier this year it is cutting US funding to the UN group, which provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians. UNRWA funding is expected to dry up by summer, according to Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
Much of the debate in the Security Council Thursday focused on more recent violence in Gaza, during which dozens of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces amid protests over the occupation, pegged to the 70th anniversary of Israel's declaration of independence.
Israel has defended its response, accusing the targeted protestors -- and two journalists -- of being members of Hamas.
But addressing the Security Council, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, insisted the protesters are civilians, and called for "an independent, transparent investigation."
"Such willful targeting of civilians is terrorism," said Mansour. "It's terrorism in every meaning of the word."