UN Rights Watchdog to Send Special Observer to Gaza

NEW YORK - The United Nations' Human Rights Council adopted a resolution yesterday to send a special observer to the Gaza Strip to examine the results of Israel's military operations there.

The unprecedented decision was the fruit of cooperation by delegates from the Arab and Muslim countries. It passed by a vote of 29 to 11, with five abstentions.

However, the resolution that was adopted was more moderate than the one originally proposed by Arab and Muslim delegates, which would have sent UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to Gaza.

Such a step would have escalated the council's involvement in Gaza to the international level.

John Dugard has already visited the territories several times as a representative of the previous incarnation of the Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Commission. His last visit to Gaza was three weeks ago.

Yesterday's session, held in Geneva, was described as "stormy and dramatic." The council was effectively split between the Arab and Muslim delegates, on one side, and the American and European Union delegates on the other.

The Arab and Muslim representatives harshly criticized Israel's military operations as blatant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, while the Western delegates focused on the abduction of Israel Defense Forces Corporal Gilad Shalit and argued that the worsening situation was the result of Palestinian violence.

The vote reflected the divisions within the organization.

Israel's representative to the council, Itzhak Levanon, said in his speech that the decision to send an observer to Gaza was part of an Arab move to turn the council into a political body.