U.N.'s Ban tells Security Council of Gaza inquiry

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council Monday he was about to set up a commission to look into Israeli damage to U.N. premises during the recent Gaza conflict, diplomats said.

Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu, current council president, told reporters Ban had promised the council during a closed-door briefing he would give it the names of the members and terms of reference of the panel in the next few days.

Several diplomats said it would be led by Ian Martin, a Briton who until recently was U.N. special envoy to Nepal and from 1986-92 served as secretary-general of human rights group Amnesty International.

Several U.N. buildings were damaged during Israel’s 22-day offensive in December and January that was aimed at stamping out rocket fire against Israel from Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant organization Hamas.

On January 15 Israeli shells that U.N. officials said contained incendiary white phosphorus demolished a warehouse in a Gaza compound belonging to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Shells also hit a vocational training center there, wounding three people.

Earlier, on January 6, Israeli fire killed more than 40 people just outside an UNRWA school in Gaza. The Israeli military said in all cases that it was responding to fire by Palestinian militants.

Ban, who strongly protested the Israeli actions at the time, already had said there would be a U.N. inquiry but diplomats said he now was ready to announce details.

At least two inquiries already are underway -- one by UNRWA itself and one by Israel. The Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council has announced a plan for a broader investigation of rights violations in Gaza.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters he understood the commission would consist of four members plus a member of the U.N. secretariat. Another diplomat said the inquiry would last for one month.

“We believe that what (Ban) did is a positive and responsible development and significant step in the right direction of investigating the crimes committed by Israel and keeping the Security Council engaged,” Mansour said.

Takasu said the commission would report back to the Security Council, which would then decide how to respond. Diplomats said they thought it unlikely that Israel’s ally the United States, which has a veto in the council, would allow the 15-nation body to adopt the report as its own.

Editing by Bill Trott