x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

UN backs Gaza war crimes report

The UN endorses a report accusing both the Israeli military and Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza conflict, a move Israel warns could derail Middle East peace efforts.

The United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday endorsed a report that accuses both the Israeli military and Hamas of war crimes during their three-week conflict in Gaza, a move Israel had warned could derail Middle East peace efforts. In a special debate in Geneva, Switzerland, 25 council members voted in favour of a resolution that called for the report's recommendations to be implemented, while six voted against and 11 abstained.

The report, written by a committee led by the former South African judge Richard Goldstone, recommends that both sides should be referred by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague if they fail to act against those allegedly responsible for war crimes within six months. However, analysts believe action by the ICC is unlikely since Israel's Security Council ally the United States could veto any resolution to refer the issue to the court.

While the Goldstone report criticises Palestinian militant groups for targeting civilians and spreading terror, the resolution passed yesterday only mentions alleged Israeli wrongdoing. Israel warned in the run-up to the vote that accepting the report could derail peace efforts. The Israeli interior minister and deputy prime minister Eli Yishai described the report's endorsement yesterday as an anti-Israeli "diplomatic farce" and said his country's army "acted with silk gloves towards innocent [civilians]".

In a statement, Israel's foreign ministry rejected what it labelled a "one-sided" and "unjust" resolution, saying it ignored Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians and the "unprecedented" precautions the country took to avoid harming civilians. The statement added: "This resolution provides encouragement for terrorist organisations worldwide and undermines global peace. Israel will continue to exercise its right to self-defence, and take action to protect the lives of its citizens."

However, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Palestinian Authority "welcomed" the vote. "We hope this will be followed up in the UN Security Council to ensure Israeli crimes are not repeated." In Gaza, Hamas also approved the move. "We hope that vote will lead to a trial of the occupation leaders," said the group's spokesman Taher al Nunu. The resolution calls for the endorsement of "the recommendations contained in the report" and for "all concerned parties including United Nations bodies, to ensure their implementation".

It asks the UN General Assembly to consider the report and for the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to report back to the council on Israel's adherence to it. It does not, however, directly ask the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC. The Gaza conflict ran from December 27 to January 18 and claimed the lives of nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers. The report says in its assaults on the Gaza Strip, Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields and destroyed civilian infrastructure.

It also alleges that rocket attacks by Gaza militants such as Hamas on southern Israel deliberately spread terror and targeted civilians. In a statement, the UAE permanent representative to the United Nations office in Geneva, Obaid al Zaabi said the report "clearly and undoubtedly proves" Israel committed war crimes against "hundreds of Palestinians" and carried out crimes against humanity. The state news agency, WAM, reported that Mr al Zaabi also said Israel was violating United Nations resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which relates to the protection of civilians during war, through its policies in Jerusalem.

Speaking before yesterday's vote, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that endorsing the report would deal a "fatal blow" to peace efforts. He said Israel would be reluctant to make the concessions necessary for peace if it could not protect its citizens against attack. Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Kadima party that headed the government during the Gaza attacks, said: "The Human Rights Council, from the day it was created, has looked upon Israel in a distorted way. Today's vote was clearly political and cynical. That is why Israel will continue to do the right thing - it will protect its citizens from terror, embark on necessary military operations, continue the international campaign against the report and ensure the legal protection of its army officers."

The US ambassador, Douglas Griffiths, said Washington opposed the resolution because it failed to recognise the right of states to "take legitimate action to protect its citizens in the face of threats to their security, while also condemning violations of international law regardless of the actor". Ahead of the vote, Mr Goldstone himself criticised the resolution for making multiple criticisms of Israel without mentioning Hamas.

"This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel," he said. "There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report." The report, based on about 180 interviews and 10,000 pages of documents, runs to 575 pages. The report was discussed this week at a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council after 18 of the 47 member signed a motion calling for a debate.

Previously, under US pressure Palestinians had called for a debate on the report to be delayed until March. But facing heavy domestic criticism of his Fatah party and the postponement of a unity deal to be signed in Cairo, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was forced into a U-turn. Despite this, Egypt yesterday scrapped plans to sign the unity agreement on October 25, citing "new complications". No alternative date has been set.

"Egypt saw it was better to delay until there is a suitable atmosphere," he said. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Vita Bekker in Tel Aviv, agencies