The Obama administration on Friday sharply criticized a United Nations report alleging that Israel committed multiple war crimes in its Gaza war earlier this year. The U.S. State Department statement ended nearly a week of muted reactions to findings already rejected by Israel.
The State Department said the conclusions of a UN commission headed by South African Justice Richard Goldstone were unfair to Israel and did not fully deal with the role in the conflict of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. It said the United States objected to a recommendation that Israeli actions be referred to the International Criminal Court.
"Although the report addresses all sides of the conflict, its overwhelming focus is on the actions of Israel," spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
While the report makes overly sweeping conclusions of fact and law with respect to Israel, its conclusions regarding Hamas' deplorable conduct and its failure to comply with international humanitarian law during the conflict are more general and tentative, he said.
The UN report, released Tuesday, faulted Israel for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying it used disproportionate force in the offensive. About 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the three-week conflict. Israel charged that Hamas was to blame, saying its fighters placed rocket launchers and forces in crowded neighborhoods.
The report also called Hamas' firing of rockets at Israeli civilians a war crime.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the findings, saying Israel's security forces were exercising their country's right to self-defense. The United States had been largely silent until Friday, limiting its response to expressions of concern about unspecified content and the panel's mandate.
That mandate was given to Goldstone and his colleagues by the UN Human Rights Council this year, before President Barack Obama decided to end the Bush administration's policy of snubbing the body and join it.
Kelly said Friday that the United States wanted to keep discussion of the report within the council and had very serious concerns about a recommendation that it be raised at other bodies, including the International Criminal Court.
"We note in particular that Israel has the democratic institutions to investigate and prosecute abuses, and we encourage it to use those institutions," he said.
U.S. officials also are troubled by the possibility that Arab states and others might attempt to raise the report at next week's UN General Assembly session. Kelly said it was important for the world to remain focused on trying to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"We hope efforts related to the Middle East at the Human Rights Council and other international bodies will look to the future and how we can support the goal of a two-state solution," he said.
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