U.N. rights council criticizes Israel over Gaza

GENEVA Fri Oct 16, 2009 5:00pm EDT

A Palestinian man walks past a house, damaged during the three-week offensive Israel launched last December, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip September 16, 2009. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian man walks past a house, damaged during the three-week offensive Israel launched last December, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip September 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday endorsed a U.N. report that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza, passing a resolution that singled it out for censure without referring to wrongdoing by Hamas.

The report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone accuses both sides of war crimes in Gaza but is most critical of the Jewish state. Up to 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the war last December and January.

In a special session proposed by the Palestinians, 25 states including China and Russia endorsed the resolution. Six including the United States voted against, and 11 abstained. Four, including France and Britain, did not vote.

Palestinian officials promptly called for further U.N. inquiries into Israel's actions.

"The international community should make sure that the decision will become a precedent that will ensure the protection of the Palestinian people from any aggression," said Nabil Abu Rdaineh, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said the decision was a victory for the Palestinian people and for rights and justice.

"We tell all the countries in the world and the international community to try Israel and its political, security and military leadership for their crimes against our people, in domestic and international courts," Meshaal told al-Jazeera television.

But Israel, which has rejected the charges in the report, said the vote would impair the Middle East peace process.

"This resolution provides encouragement for terrorist organizations worldwide and undermines global peace," the Israeli government said in a statement.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said he did not think the resolution would harm Israel.

"I don't think that this vote today and any resolution or any reference of this Goldstone report will have any consequences in the future because Israel, like other decent countries that are under attack, will do what we need to do to defend ourselves, to defend our civilians," he told Israeli media.

The resolution endorsed all Goldstone's recommendations regarding Israel, including that the war crimes issue should be referred to the U.N. Security Council if the two sides failed to conduct credible domestic investigations with six months, and possibly then the International Criminal Court. It did not mention Hamas, which was also criticized by Goldstone.

FRANCO-BRITISH LETTER

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent a joint letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday urging him to initiate an "independent and transparent" inquiry into the conflict.

They also called for a stop to any expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and demanded greater access to Gaza, especially for humanitarian convoys, saying such moves would help relaunch the peace process.

U.S. charge d'affaires Douglas Griffiths said the United States had voted against the resolution because of its one-sided approach and "sweeping conclusions of law," which could unsettle the fragile peace process.

In addition to slamming Israel's lack of cooperation with the Goldstone inquiry, the text "strongly condemns all policies and measures taken by Israel, the occupying power, including those limiting access of Palestinians to their properties and holy sites particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem."

It also called for the U.N. General Assembly to consider the findings and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back on Israel's adherence to them, moves that could keep Israel in the international spotlight.

The Human Rights Council had postponed discussion of the Gaza report under pressure from Washington aimed at getting the peace process back on track. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came under criticism at home for agreeing to the delay, leading to the request for a special session.

(Additional reporting by Matt Falloon in London and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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