- 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.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned before Friday’s vote that it could have far-reaching consequences.

“Whoever votes in favor of endorsing the report must understand that next time it will be the soldiers and officers of NATO in Afghanistan, and then Russian soldiers and officers in Chechnya [who face prosecution],” the Associated Press quoted Mr. Lieberman as saying late Thursday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the resolution “provides encouragement for terrorist organizations worldwide and undermines global peace,” the AP reported.

U.S. diplomat Douglas M. Griffiths told the council that Washington was disappointed with the outcome, in which the report was endorsed by 25 member states.

The United States and five European countries - Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia and Ukraine - opposed the resolution, while 11 mostly European and African countries abstained. Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote. Russia and China, two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, were among those voting yes.

“We’re focused on moving forward in the peace process and we feel that this is a distraction from that,” Mr. Griffiths told the AP.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters the resolution had “an unbalanced focus and we’re concerned that it will exacerbate polarization and divisiveness.”

Among the Palestinians, both Hamas and the rival Fatah faction that controls the West Bank welcomed Friday’s vote.

“What is important now is to translate words into deeds in order to protect our people in the future from any new aggression,” Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in Ramallah.

When he was picked to head the fact-finding mission in April, Mr. Goldstone, who is Jewish, said he was “shocked” by the choice, but promised to present a balanced report.

After the report was released last month, Israeli officials criticized Mr. Goldstone, a former prosecutor in the U.N. war crimes tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as being biased against the Jewish state.

On Thursday, while in Bern, Switzerland, for a conference, Mr. Goldstone expressed concern that the HRC resolution was targeting only Israel and failed to include Hamas.

“This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope that the council can modify the text,” Mr. Goldstone said in remarks published in the Swiss newspaper Le Temps ahead of the vote.

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