- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | A U.N. investigation concluded Tuesday that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, raising the prospect that officials may seek prosecution in the International Criminal Court.

The probe led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone concluded that “Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity,” during its Dec. 27-Jan. 18 military operations against Palestinian rocket squads in the Gaza Strip.

In a 575-page report, Mr. Goldstone and three other investigators also found evidence “that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.”

Mr. Goldstone said the probe, which included 188 interviews, a review of 10,000 documents and 12,000 photos and video, was completed only Tuesday morning.

“There should be no impunity for international crimes that are committed,” he said. “It’s very important that justice should be done.”

Israel, which refused to cooperate with the investigation, said the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council that ordered it was biased.

The investigators recommended that the U.N. Security Council require Israel to launch its own credible investigation into the conflict within three months. If that is not done, the investigators called on the council to refer the matter for action by the International Criminal Court prosecutor within six months. However, Israel does not accept the court’s authority.

The Palestinian group Hamas rules Gaza and has been accused by Israel of using human shields during the conflict, in which almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed - many of them civilians.

“The mandate of the mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome of any investigation, gave legitimacy to the Hamas terrorist organization and disregarded the deliberate Hamas strategy of using Palestinian civilians as cover for launching terrorist attacks,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Mr. Goldstone, who is Jewish and has strong ties to Israel, told reporters at U.N. headquarters that “to accuse me of being anti-Israel is ridiculous.”

In a joint statement, nine Israeli human-rights groups said the findings join a “long series of reports” indicating that Israel and Hamas violated the laws of war. They called on the Israeli government to conduct an “independent and impartial investigation.”

The report said that Israel’s attacks in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble, amounted to war crimes.

It found that seven incidents - in which civilians were shot while leaving their homes trying to run for safety, waving white flags and sometimes even following Israeli instructions, plus the targeting of a mosque at prayer time, killing 15 people - were also war crimes.

On the Palestinian side, the report found that armed groups firing rockets into southern Israel from Gaza failed to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population.

In a preliminary investigation earlier this year, the Israeli army cleared itself of any systematic wrongdoing during the war and said any rights violations were isolated incidents. Since then, it has opened a series of separate investigations into the conduct of individual soldiers.

The Foreign Ministry noted Tuesday that the military has examined more than 100 allegations regarding the conduct of its forces during the Gaza operation, resulting in 23 criminal investigations.

Hamas officials were not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, visiting U.S. special envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leaders Tuesday but failed to get Israel to curtail West Bank settlement construction.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he would hold a second, unscheduled meeting with Mr. Mitchell on Wednesday.

After an evening meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Mitchell said the U.S. is committed to the resumption of peace talks and that he hoped “to bring this phase of the effort to a positive conclusion in the coming weeks.”

Mr. Abbas has repeatedly said he would not resume official talks with Israel unless settlement construction comes to a total halt. But aides have said he might agree to an informal meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in New York when both of them attend the U.N. General Assembly opening next week.

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