- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | The United States wants to shift debate over a U.N. report - charging Israel and Hamas with possible war crimes during Israel’s winter invasion of Gaza - from the Security Council in New York to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The U.S. effort got a boost Tuesday when the Human Rights Council (HRC) scheduled a special meeting this week on the report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, at the request of the Palestinian Authority mission.

The United States repeatedly has pointed out that the report was commissioned by the HRC, which it says would be a more appropriate venue for discussions.

“Decisions on what next steps and what is the appropriate disposition of this report are decisions that will be taken in Geneva,” the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, told reporters. The HRC session is scheduled for Thursday, a day after the Security Council also takes up the issue.

The U.S. managed to block requests for an emergency Security Council session on the report by agreeing to hold its monthly debate Wednesday on broader efforts toward Middle East peace.

The U.S. and its allies on the Security Council say they plan to make Wednesday’s meeting like any other regularly scheduled assessment, but will not squelch the diplomats who want to refer to the Goldstone report, said a U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

But with an estimated 40 nations or observer missions signed up to speak, the report is likely to dominate much of the session.

The inch-thick report says Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters “committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.”

The report accuses Israeli soldiers of willfully killing civilians, destroying homes and private property, waging deliberate attacks on schools, using indiscriminate force, deploying Palestinians as human shields, and imposing collective punishment by shutting down Gaza’s commercial crossings.

The report also accuses Hamas, which rules Gaza, of flinging mortars from sites close to designated humanitarian shelters during Israel’s January invasion, which came in response to Hamas rocket fire at Israeli cities.

Human Rights Watch’s Steve Crawshaw said the investigation found that mortar and rocket fire from Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups “was deliberate and calculated to cause loss of civilian life and to terrorize Israeli civilians.”

Arab and Islamic states have demanded - through Security Council member Libya - that the 15-nation Security Council formally review and endorse the critical findings.

Israel has vowed to fight the charges, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Goldstone report “one-sided” during a visit to the United Nations last month.

Israel claims that it did everything possible to avoid civilian casualties during the offensive and that the report deprives it of the right to self-defense. It is especially concerned that legal action based on the report could subject top Israeli officials to arrest when they visit members of the 27-nation European Union.

At the HRC in Geneva, so many nations are inscribed to speak at Thursday’s session, said U.N. officials, that a second day of speeches will probably be necessary.

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