UN rights body calls special session on Gaza

GENEVA, Jan 7 (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Council said on Wednesday it will hold a special session on Friday on the situation in the Gaza Strip at the request of Islamic and developing countries as well as Russia.

The formal request -- from 29 members of the 47-nation body -- says the session should discuss "the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the Occupied Gaza Strip."

Resolutions issued by the Council are not binding.

Many countries have expressed concern at the civilian deaths in Gaza where Israel has launched an offensive to end rocket attacks into Israel by Islamist militants. More than 640 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, local medical officials said.

The meeting, expected to last only one day, will be the fifth aimed at condemning Israel out of the nine special sessions the Council has held in the 2-1/2 years since it was launched.

Over that period, the Council -- where a bloc of Islamic states backed by many African countries, Russia, China and Cuba holds an overwhelming majority -- has condemned Israel 20 times.

The only other countries to be strongly criticised have been Myanmar, four times, and North Korea, once. The Council has issued no condemnations of any countries in the majority bloc.

Chile, one of the developing countries on the Council that regularly takes a neutral position, was among signatories of the request for Friday's session. China was not among its initial backers but under Council rules could join in by Friday.

European Union countries on the Council, Canada and South Korea did not join in the call. The United States has only observer status and does not take part in the rights body's work. (Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)