UN presses Israel and Palestinians on war crime probes
Israel and the Palestinians came under renewed international pressure on Wednesday to produce "credible" domestic probes of war crimes allegedly committed during the recent Gaza conflict, as demanded by the UN.
A representative for UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for the probes during a Security Council debate on the Middle East, in which Palestinians and their supporters turned the spotlight on harsh criticism of Israel's conduct during the three-week war that begun in late 2008.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the fighting that erupted when Israel launched a massive military offensive on Gaza on December 27, in response to rocket firing by Palestinian militants.
A recent 575-page report by a UN team led by South African judge Richard Goldstone accused both Israel and Palestinian armed groups of committing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict.
Ban "calls upon all of the parties to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the conflict without delay," UN Under Secretary General Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council.
Britain, France and the United States backed the appeal.
"We urge the Israeli government to carry out full, credible and impartial investigations into the allegations reported in the Goldstone Report," Britain's outgoing UN Ambassador John Sawers told the council.
"We believe that the parties must now launch independent inquiries in line with international standards on the alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights during the Gaza crisis," his French counterpart Gerard Araud said.
US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff, whose country is Israel's staunchest ally, reiterated Washington's "serious concerns about the report, its unbalanced focus on Israel, the overly broad scope of its recommendations, and its sweeping conclusions of law."
But Wolff also made clear that Washington took "the allegations in the report seriously.
"Israel has the institutions and the ability to carry out serious investigations of these allegations and we encourage it to do so," he noted.
The remarks came as the Security Council discussed the Goldstone report at its regular monthly meeting on the Middle East, a day before the UN Human Rights Council reopens its own debate on the issue in Geneva.
No resolution was expected to result from the Security Council debate.
Representatives of more than 40 countries took the floor, including several from Arab, nonaligned and Islamic nations who denounced Israel's alleged war crimes in Gaza, its "collective punishment" of the civilian population there and its recent "provocations in occupied East Jerusalem."
But Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev renewed her country's total rejection of the report, after the Jewish state again warned that the report's endorsement would sink any chance of restarting Middle East peace talks.
"I regret to say that the Goldstone report is one-sided, biased and therefore wrong -- just as the forum and mandate that established its mission," she said.