UN council to discuss possible Gaza session

Members of the UN Security Council will discuss a request for a session on claims that war crimes were committed during last winter's Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

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UNITED NATIONS // The president of the UN Security Council said members will meet today to discuss Libya's request for an emergency session on a report that claimed war crimes were committed during last winter's Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. The Vietnam ambassador Le Luong Minh, who holds the council presidency this month, said he set closed-door talks after receiving a request from Libya, the only Arab member on the 15-nation council.

The Palestinian UN Mission issued a press release that said it affirmed "full support for the Libyan request" for an emergency meeting on the report on the December 27 to January 18 conflict in Gaza written by legal experts and chaired by the eminent South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The Libyan move and Palestinian support surprised some council members because less than a week ago - on October 1 - the UN Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report, delayed a vote on a resolution to refer the report to the UN General Assembly at the Palestinians request.

The vote would move the issue one step closer to possible prosecutions, but it was delayed at least until March. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, under intense pressure from the militant group Hamas which controls Gaza for agreeing to suspend efforts to go after Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza, appears to have agreed to try to put the Goldstone report on the Security Council agenda. Whether the Libyans and Palestinians succeed remains to be seen.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, lobbied intensely in the Human Rights Council to delay action on the report, and it is expected to argue in the Security Council that the UN's most powerful body should not take up the 575-page document until the Geneva-based human rights body considers it. The Goldstone report accused Israel of using disproportionate force and failing to protect civilians while calling Hamas' firing of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel a war crime.

It recommended that the Security Council require both sides to carry out credible investigations into alleged abuses during the conflict - in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed. Israel has vehemently rejected the war crimes allegations. The US has called the report deeply flawed and said it disagrees with many of its assessments. The Palestinian Observer Mission said it would work "diligently with the Arab Group and all other political groups inside and outside of the Security Council to ensure that this important [Security Council] meeting is convened to address this extremely serious issue".

Mr Goldstone told the Human Rights Council late last month that investigators were driven by a desire to hold accountable those on both sides who harmed civilians. He said failure to do so would undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. *AP