UN backs push for Gaza probe

The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution calling on Israel and the Palestinians to probe war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza nearly a year ago.

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The vote, capping a two-day debate in the 192-member assembly on a controversial UN report that has accused both sides of war crimes during the 22-day conflict in the Gaza Strip, was 114 in favor and 18 against, with 44 abstentions.

Israel, which had strenuously opposed the non-binding resolution and the UN report which it endorsed, voted against as did its staunchest ally, the United States, along with Australia and a few European countries.

Many European Union countries, including Britain, France, Sweden and Spain, abstained after failing to secure amendments to the text, including one that would have dropped references to possible Security Council action if the report’s findings are not implemented. Russia also abstained.

The text endorsed a UN report by a panel led by respected former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone that accused both Israel and the Palestinians of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the 22-day Gaza conflict that ended in January.

Goldstone, a South African Jew, recommended that Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas that rules Gaza face possible prosecution before the International Criminal Court in The Hague if they fail to conduct credible, independent investigations within six months.

The assembly resolution also called on both Israel and the Palestinian side to conduct, within a period of three months, investigations “that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards.”

Explaining his country’s “no” vote, US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff stressed that Washington “strongly supports accountability for human rights and humanitarian law violations in relation to the Gaza conflict.”

“Our goal is to achieve genuine accountability in a way that respects internal processes and the ongoing efforts to restart permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” he however added.

Yahya Mahmassani, the permanent observer of the 22-member Arab Leahue, welcomed the adoption of the resolution as “a very good result.”

“This is a victory for justice and accountability,” he added, saying the Arab sponsors would consider their next step after hopefully receiving a report from UN chief Ban Ki-moon on implementation of this resolution within three months.

A key finding of the Goldstone report was that Israel used disproportionate force in response to repeated rocket attacks by Gaza-based militants and failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians during its Gaza onslaught.

Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Israeli military offensive in the tiny coastal Palestinian enclave which ended in January.

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