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U.N. rights council urges Israel to take 99 steps

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council called on Israel Tuesday to take nearly 100 measures, from lifting its blockade on Gaza to releasing Arab detainees.

The 47-member-state Council adopted its list of 99 recommendations by consensus at the end of a two-day review of Israel’s human rights record.

Under a new mechanism, known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the records of all United Nations member states are to be subjected to scrutiny every four years.

“Israel remains committed to reinforcing areas in which we are succeeding and bettering those areas that need improvement,” said Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar.

He said the dialogue had been “positive and productive,” and thanked those delegations which had acknowledged the “many complexities in our region.”

Israel is to report back to the Geneva-based forum in March on how it plans to follow-up on the recommendations.

During a heated debate last Thursday, its neighbours accused it of committing systematic violations against Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Delegations from Syria, Egypt and Iran raised concerns about Israel’s security wall, its detentions of young Palestinians, and what they called “illegal” Jewish settlements.

But senior Israeli officials told the talks that Gaza had “become a hotbed for terrorist preparations and a launching pad for repeated missile attacks.” More than 200 rockets and mortar shells were fired on Israel from Gaza in the past four weeks, according to its delegation. Israel has stepped up a blockade of Gaza in response.

Israel’s main ally, the United States, did not take the floor at the Council, where its delegation has observer status. The Bush administration suspended its participation last June, citing the forum’s “rather pathetic record.”

The Council has held three special sessions looking at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians since the body was created in 2006.

The latest recommendations included one for Israel to issue a standing invitation to all U.N. rights investigators. It has allowed eight U.N. investigators to visit the country in the past three years, according to Leshno Yaar.

Richard Falk, the Council’s special rapporteur on human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said on Monday that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip amounted to a “crime against humanity” and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Falk, an American Jew who is an international law professor, also said that an urgent effort should be launched at the U.N. itself to ensure protection of the people of Gaza.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan