United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday released the results of Israeli and Palestinian investigations into alleged war crimes during the conflict in Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, which did not appear to include any input from Gaza's Hamas rulers.
The UN chief introduced the 247-page report with brief observations that made no comment on the submissions by Israel or the Palestinians, which were requested by the General Assembly. He said it was important to respect international human rights and humanitarian law and expressed hope that steps will be taken wherever there are credible allegations of violations.
Last November, the 192-member world body gave Israel and the Palestinians three months to undertake independent, credible investigations into the findings of a UN-appointed expert panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. In February, it gave both sides an additional five months to conduct their inquiries.
The report said that Israel has launched more than 150 investigations in allegations of misconduct or violations of international law during the Gaza conflict. It said the military has opened 47 criminal investigations and initiated criminal prosecutions of four soldiers in separate incidents.
Human Rights Watch called on governments and the UN to maintain pressure on Israel and Hamas to conduct thorough and impartial investigations, and to provide justice to the victims of abuses.
"Israeli investigations still fall far short of being thorough and impartial, while Hamas appears to have done nothing at all to investigate alleged violations," the rights group's program director Iain Levine said in a statement. "We regret that the secretary-general merely passed on the reports he received from Israel and the Palestinian side instead of making the failings of these investigations clear."
The 575-page Goldstone report concluded that both sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the Gaza war, in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including many civilians.
It said Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields, and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its three-week incursion into the Gaza Strip to root out Palestinian rocket squads.
It accused Palestinian armed groups including Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Both sides rejected the charges when the Goldstone report was issued, and their positions remained unchanged in the newly released reports.
The General Assembly resolution warned of possible further action by UN bodies, including the Security Council, if both sides didn't conduct independent and credible investigations. Whether the assembly plans any follow-up to Wednesday's report remains to be seen.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban was asked by the General Assembly to solicit investigation reports from both sides but was not requested to express his views on the responses received.
The Israeli military submitted its report on July 21 and said it has made numerous changes to its operational procedures and policies in order to further enhance the protection of civilians from the hazards of battle and the protection of private property during military operations.
The Palestinian report was submitted by the Independent Investigation Commission established by the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank but lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.
It said the numbers and the facts speak for themselves and accused Israel of acting with impunity, disregarding international law, and justifying its indiscriminate, disproportionate and collective punishment measures against the Palestinian people, as if no limitations applied to Israel.
The Palestinian commission said that since Hamas took over Gaza legal institutions are being undermined and this has resulted in a high number of violations of international human rights law, negatively impacting the situation of human rights in Gaza. But the commission emphasized that there is no moral equivalency between Israel's violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the Gaza conflict and the situation concerning observance and respect for human rights in Gaza by Hamas.