- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday forwarded to the General Assembly a fact-finding report that accuses both Israel and the Palestinians of committing war crimes during Israel’s three-week siege of the Gaza Strip.

The council, meeting in Geneva, voted to endorse the report submitted by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The report has recommended that the U.N. Security Council require both sides in the conflict to show within six months that they are carrying out independent and impartial investigations into the alleged abuses.

If they are not, the matter should be referred to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the report said.

Six nations, including the United States, voted against endorsing the report. At the Security Council, Washington is expected to veto any proposal to refer the matter to the ICC, which Israel does not accept.

Several senior U.N. officials endorsed the strongly worded report, and indicated their dismay that Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militias had, according to the investigation, committed war crimes against civilians.

Both sides are accused of using Gazans as human shields during the winter invasion.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and General Assembly President Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya have in recent days publicly endorsed the investigation.

Earlier Friday, the 47-member Human Rights Council approved by a 25-6 vote to chastise Israel for failing to cooperate with the Goldstone mission. Eleven countries abstained, most of them African and European nations that don’t want to spoil their relations with Washington.

Ms. Pillay, the head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva, issued a statement Friday calling on governments in the region to conduct their own “credible, independent and transparent” accounting of their military operations in early January.

An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Palestinians died during the siege, many of them civilians trapped by Israeli and Egyptian government refusal to unlock the checkpoints that bind Gazans in densely wrapped territory. Thirteen Israelis - including two soldiers - died.

“There is significant prima facie evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law having been committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants,” Ms. Pillay said.

The 575-page report enumerates specific clashes and combat between Israeli soldiers and Hamas’ militias over the three-week occupation. The 50-page synopsis, released in September, outlines the use of old-fashioned house-to-house warfare and weaponized white phosphorus, which can melt clothes and burn skin.

The world body on Friday said the Gaza invasion and the Goldstone report would be discussed in March, the next session of the HRC.

The United States recently joined the HRC after three years of criticizing the large representation by dictatorships and repressive regimes. These countries - including Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Cuba, Djibouti and Egypt - have largely voted as a bloc to derail criticisms of individual governments such as Sudan’s.

The same member states have passed resolutions to condemn Israel and its treatment of its Palestinian citizens and neighbors.

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