World News

Israel denies entry to U.N. rights investigator

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel denied entry on Monday to a special U.N. investigator who planned to travel to the Palestinian territories to document human rights conditions, Israeli and U.N. officials said.

Border police prevented Richard Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Israeli behavior in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, from entering Israel when he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Falk had angered Israel by making remarks comparing its forces’ actions in the Gaza Strip to those of the Nazis in wartime Europe. He was put on a plane back to Geneva on Monday.

U.N. officials said Falk, who is Jewish, has been tasked with preparing reports on human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“He was coming to follow up on his mandate, meet people and collect first-hand information,” a U.N. official said.

In New York, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “regrets that Mr. Falk was denied entry and urges the Israeli authorities to fully cooperate with the special procedures of the (U.N.) Human Rights Council.”

U.N. General Assembly president Miguel D’Escoto, a sharp critic of Israel, called the treatment of Falk “arbitrary”, adding: “Such action by a member state of the United Nations reflects a dangerous decision by individual countries to rebuff U.N. mandates and U.N.-appointed mandate-holders.”

A U.S. professor, Falk is fiercely critical of what he describes as “pro-Israel” influence on U.S. foreign policies.

Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Falk was denied entry because his mandate from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council was “profoundly distorted and conceived as an anti-Israel initiative.”

“It has nothing to do with the promotion of human rights,” Palmor said, noting that Falk’s mandate allows him to report only on Israeli violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the territories.

Israel says Palestinian attacks on civilian targets in Israel are in breach of global pacts and should be condemned.

The human rights group Adalah protested Israel’s decision to deport Falk, calling it a “severe blow to the rights of the Palestinian civilian population living under Israeli occupation.”

The Human Rights Council has held several sessions to condemn Israeli policy in the territories but has generally shielded Islamic and African countries from criticism.

Israel’s closest ally, the United States, announced earlier this year that it was suspending participation in the Council, where it was an observer.

European and some Latin American countries have also voiced concern at the direction the body is taking.

Reporting by Adam Entous; additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; editing by Mohammad Zargham