Goldstone: Punish Commanders Who Broke Laws in Gaza

Israel blasts UN report on Gaza war crimes as 'fictional'; probe commission head denies bias charges.

The head of a United Nations commission that charged Israel with committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip during its offensive there earlier last winter wrote Thursday that soldiers and commanders must be held accountable for serious violations during the fighting.

In a New York Times op-ed, Richard Goldstone wrote that "Israel must investigate, and Hamas is obliged to do the same. They must examine what happened and appropriately punish any soldier or commander found to have violated the law."

Goldstone accused both Israel and Hamas of conducting biased and ineffectual investigations, if at all, saying that "unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces."

Also Thursday, Goldstone denied allegations that his investigative team had set out on a biased mission.

"I deny that completely," Goldstone said in remarks broadcast on public radio Thursday, following Israeli accusations.

"I was completely independent, nobody dictated any outcome, and the outcome was a result of the independent inquiries that our mission made," he said.

Goldstone told interviewers that he stood behind his commission's findings and regretted only Israel's refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

"If there is any difference that I would have preferred, [it] would have been that we could have got cooperation from Israel and in particular, I would have liked the Israeli government to assist us and decide what we should investigate because that's what I asked them to do," he said.

The nearly 600 page report also accused Palestinian militants of committing war crimes by firing rockets on civilians populations.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday called the Goldstone Commission's conclusion that Israel committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip "pre-determined."

"The Goldstone Commission was formed to find Israel of war crimes determined in advance," said Lieberman. "Members of the panel did give the facts a chance to confuse them."

"The Goldstone report is seeking to bring the UN back to the dark days in which it decided, under the guidance of states with interests, that Zionism is racism," added Lieberman in a statement sent to journalists.

The report, he continued, "has no legal, factual or ethical validity whatsoever."

"The state of Israel will continue to defend its citizens from the attacks of terrorists and terrorist organizations, and will continue to defend its soldiers against attacks of hypocrisy and distortion," he added.

Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit on Wednesday denounced the United Nations report as "biased" and said it blatantly overstepped the commission's mandate.

The Goldstone report is "biased, extremely radical, and has no basis in reality," Mendelblit said.

Israel has meanwhile asked a number of senior members of the Obama administration to assist in curbing the international fallout from the Goldstone Commission report released this week, which accuses Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

The Foreign Ministry decided Wednesday to focus their efforts to combat the report's accusations on the United States, Russia and a few other members of the United Nations Security Council and the Human Rights Council that are involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Israeli message is that the Goldstone report threatens those countries because it makes the war on terror very difficult, and therefore efforts must be made to prevent it from being brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue Wednesday with U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, while Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon discussed it with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other senior officials.

Israel has also asked a number of senior members of the Obama administration to assist in curbing the international fallout from the Goldstone Commission report.

HAARETZ SPECIAL FEATURE: The Goldstone Commission Report