x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Hamas denies apologising for civilian rocket deaths

UN secretary general under fire over response to Israeli and Palestinian accounts of their conduct during three-week Gaza offensive.

FILE - In this Jan 7, 2009 file photo, a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip is seen from southern Israel, near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. The Hamas government in Gaza distanced itself Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 from an earlier statement in which it expressed regret for harming Israeli civilians in rocket attacks. The apology was part of the government's response to a U.N. report that alleged both Hamas and Israel committed war crimes during Israel's Gaza offensive last winter. The U.N. report accused Hamas of firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians.
FILE - In this Jan 7, 2009 file photo, a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip is seen from southern Israel, near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. The Hamas government in Gaza distanced itself Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 from an earlier statement in which it expressed regret for harming Israeli civilians in rocket attacks. The apology was part of the government's response to a U.N. report that alleged both Hamas and Israel committed war crimes during Israel's Gaza offensive last winter. The U.N. report accused Hamas of firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians.

RAMALLAH // Hamas last night denied that the Gaza government's report to the UN over alleged war crimes during the Gaza war last year contained any apology for Israeli civilian casualties as had been reported elsewhere yesterday. Human rights organisations, meanwhile, have criticised the response of Ban Ki-moon, the UN's secretary general, to the reports offered by Israel and the Palestinians over their own conduct during the three-week Israeli offensive.

Both Hamas and Israel filed the results of their own investigations into alleged war crimes with Mr Ban in recent days, in line with a February 5 deadline set in the Goldstone report. Most observers considered the two sides' reports incomplete, however, even if they were presented as final. Mr Ban avoided passing judgement on the matter, noting merely that "no determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned" in his report to the UN's General Assembly on Thursday.

In effect, Mr Ban passed the responsibility for further action back to the member states of the General Assembly, and Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others criticised him for doing so. Amnesty said in a statement on Friday that the information Mr Ban received was "sufficient to show clearly that the steps taken by both sides have been completely inadequate and that this message should have been conveyed to them in the report".

Israel, for its part, welcomed Mr Ban's response. "Israel is satisfied that the secretary general of the United Nations accurately reflected the Israeli document submitted this week," the foreign ministry said in a statement published on Friday. Israel's document "fully expresses Israel's obligation to hold independent and reliable investigations, which would measure up to the yardstick of international law", the statement continued.

Hamas, meanwhile, said it would insist that Israelis guilty of war crimes be brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Gaza's justice minister said yesterday. "We ask the United Nations to transfer the matter to the ICC so that the Zionist war criminals can be brought to justice," said Mohammed al Ghul. He conceded, however, that US objections would probably scupper any such move.

Mr Ghul also denied an earlier account that suggested that Hamas's report to the UN had included an apology for the three civilian Israeli fatalities during the war. "There were no apologies," Mr Ghul told reporters in Gaza. "The Israeli occupation was held accountable for any claims of civilian casualties because they committed the assault and the holocaust [of the people in Gaza]." Reuters had earlier reported that the documents submitted by Hamas to the UN had included a plea to the Israeli public to understand that "their government's continued attacks on us were the key issue and the cause" of the rocket fire.

Hamas, Reuters reported the document as stating, "regrets any harm that may have befallen any Israeli civilian". Hamas has always maintained that it did not deliberately target Israeli civilians but that its homemade rockets were not sufficiently advanced to ensure precise targeting. As such, Hamas officials argue, the group cannot be held responsible in the same way as the Israeli military can, with its advanced weaponry and intelligence-gathering capabilities, for civilian losses.

The Goldstone report took Hamas to task for "indiscriminate" rocket fire against civilian targets. The Goldstone report was the result of a UN investigation into Israel's assault on Gaza last year. It concluded that war crimes were committed by both sides, but especially by the Israeli army, and urged independent and comprehensive domestic investigations be carried out, without which both sides should be referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for prosecution.

However, Israel has vehemently rejected the report as anti-Semitic, even though Richard Goldstone, the judge who headed the commission of inquiry, is himself Jewish. The country is currently compiling a point-for-point rebuttal of the Goldstone report, but this is not expected for weeks. @Email:okarmi@thenational.ae