UN rights body ready to debate Goldstone probe
Israel calls Gaza report Hamas propaganda; Abbas accuses Hamas of using probe to delay reconciliation.
The United Nations Human Rights Council will reopen a debate about alleged war crimes in Gaza later this week, officials said Tuesday, after Palestinians succeeded in gathering enough support to call a special meeting.
"The holding of the special session is at the request of Palestine," the United Nations said in a statement circulated on Tuesday in Geneva, where the 47-member body is based.
The debate will start Thursday, a day after the UN Security Council in New York discusses the Goldstone report, which accuses Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during their Dec. 27-Jan. 18 war.
Israel has rejected the report, claiming the investigators led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone were biased and misled by Palestinian propaganda.
UN officials say 18 of the council's 47 members have signed a motion calling for the debate. The backers are: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Senegal.
Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Authority's UN ambassador in Geneva, said the two-day debate would examine the report as well as recent incidents of violence in Jerusalem.
It will be the sixth time that Israel has been the subject of a special session by the Geneva-based council. Each previous session has resulted in a resolution critical of Israel.
"We'll wait to take a stance on the debate itself once it begins," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "We still think that this report is very dangerous and is disconnected from reality. This report was based almost exclusively on Hamas propaganda."
The 575-page report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force and failed to protect civilians during its incursion into Gaza to root out Palestinian rocket squads.
The report also accused Palestinian armed groups of possible war crimes, including firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel. Hamas, the Palestinian Authority's main rival, controls Gaza.
Thirteen Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the conflict.
The decision to call for a special meeting of the council marks a turnaround for the Palestinians. Under heavy U.S. pressure, Palestinian diplomats two weeks ago had asked for debate on the report to be delayed until March, resulting in protests at home.
Despite angry Israeli reaction and U.S. criticism, the Goldstone report has been widely praised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and supported by countries in Europe and elsewhere.
Abbas: Hamas using probe as excuse to delay reconciliation
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday lashed out at the rival Hamas movement, accusing the group of using opposition to the Goldstone Commission's report on the Gaza War as a pretense for pushing of a reconciliation deal.
The Palestinian president's comments came after a week of further strife between the rival groups, over the Palestinian Authority's decision to retract its proposal for a UN vote.
After two weeks of criticism, Abbas ordered his envoy to resubmit the proposal for a vote.
During his first visit in years to the West Bank city of Jenin, Abbas lambasted senior Hamas officials for fleeing to the Sinai Peninsula as Gaza civilians suffered under Israel's offensive.
"Are you for or against the Goldstone report?" asked Abbas, directing his question at Hamas. "Has anybody heard a clear stance from Hamas?"
United Nations Chief Ban ki-Boom said Monday that he supported Abbas' decision to bring the subject back to the Human Rights Council for debate.
According to Abbas, Hamas was using the Goldstone report as an "excuse to run away from reconciliation."
"At first they called it a Zionist report, then they blamed us for deferring [the vote]," said Hamas. "What's the connection?"
"We will do everything in our power to bring this coup in Gaza to an end," said Abbas. "We won't use force... we will not open fire on our citizens and relatives."
Egypt announced earlier this week that a deal to reconcile the bitterly divided factions, set to be signed on October 25, would now be delayed by several weeks due to the internal row.
Abbas also accused Hamas fighters of fleeing during the fighting while they left their people to be killed in Gaza.
Tuesday's speech was Abbas' harshest so far on his Hamas rivals.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the speech base and misguided.
Relations between Abbas's Fatah government in the West Bank and Hamas collapsed when Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody 2007 coup.