Call for UN chief to monitor Gaza war investigation

The Palestinians and their allies call for the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon to get involved in a row over Gaza war crimes investigations.

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GENEVA // The Palestinians and their allies have called for the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon to become involved in a row over Gaza war crimes investigations, proposing that he monitor whether Israel and Hamas are conducting credible probes into alleged abuses during their conflict last winter. The proposal was contained in a draft resolution circulated to members of the UN Human Rights Council ahead of a debate on a report that accuses Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the December 27 to January 18 war. Israel has tried to discredit the report and its authors, claiming the panel of UN experts led by the former South African judge Richard Goldstone was biased against the Jewish state. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has sought to capitalise on the report's criticism of Israel while downplaying serious allegations the document makes against Palestinian militants. The Human Rights Council commissioned the report and had intended to vote on it in early October, but Palestinian diplomats agreed to delay consideration until March under heavy pressure from the United States, which feared it would jeopardise attempts to revive the peace process.

The delay sparked scathing criticism of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and led the Palestinians to reverse course, first seeking an emergency Security Council meeting and then seeking to reopen the Human Rights Council debate, which will happen today and Friday. The Security Council moved up its monthly Middle East briefing to Wednesday, and the Palestinian foreign minister Riad al Malki and Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev traded accusations about the Goldstone report.

Al Malki called for global action to punish Israel, warning that the credibility of the United Nations and international human rights law was at stake. Shalev countered that the report 'favours and legitimises terrorism' and 'denies Israel's right to defend its citizens.' The resolution that Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and others proposed to the Human Rights Council late yesterday endorses the Goldstone team's findings. It asks Ban to report back to the Rights Council in March on whether Israel and the Palestinians are complying with the document's recommendations calling for impartial and independent probes by both sides and bringing any perpetrators of war crimes to justice.

The move to rope in the UN chief appeared to be an effort to pile further pressure on the international community to ensure justice and hold war crimes perpetrators accountable. The report already recommends that the Security Council should determine within six months whether credible investigations are taking place. If they aren't, it says the council should refer the matter to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. The Security Council is unlikely to recommend such a move as the United States, a long-standing ally of Israel, considers the report unbalanced and does not want it considered by the 15-nation body, where it has veto power.

The report also recommended that countries use what is known as 'universal jurisdiction' to arrest and prosecute those suspected of war crimes, a suggestion that has infuriated and unnerved senior Israeli officials. Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed earlier this week that he would never allow war crimes trials against Israeli leaders or soldiers. The report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields, and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its incursion into Gaza to root out Palestinian rocket squads. It accused Palestinian armed groups, which include Hamas, of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks on southern Israel. European diplomats in Geneva expressed concern about several aspects of the proposed resolution, but said the Human Rights Council's 47 member would seek to find a compromise ahead of a probable vote on Friday. The council, which is dominated by African and Asian countries, has a record of passing resolutions critical of Israel.

* AP