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US Hits UN Gaza Report for Excess Focus on Israel

By David Gollust
19 September 2009

The United States Friday criticized as deeply unbalanced against Israel a U.N. Human Rights Council report this week alleging that both Israel and Hamas apparently committed war crimes in their three-week conflict last winter. The State Department says the international focus should be on supporting efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to peace negotiations.

The United States has joined Israel in characterizing the U.N. report as one-sided and it is making clear its opposition to the prospect of war crimes prosecutions on the Gaza conflict in the International Criminal Court or elsewhere.

The comments came in a formal reaction by the State Department Friday to a report Tuesday by a U.N.-mandated fact-finding mission that both Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas likely committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in their brief conflict.

More than 1,400 people were killed, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians, when Israeli forces invaded Gaza in the last few days of 2008 to halt months of Palestinian rocket and mortar fire into southern Israel.

In a more than 500-page report, the four-member U.N. human rights panel led by veteran South African jurist Richard Goldstone called on both Israel and Hamas to conduct credible investigations of the alleged crimes with in six months.

In the absence of that, the Goldstone report said the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

The United States had complained previously that the U.N. Human Rights Council set forth a one-sided and unacceptable mandate for the inquiry. In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the results uphold the United States' earlier misgivings. "Although the report addresses all sides to the conflict, its overwhelming focus is on the actions of Israel. While the report makes over-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. We also have very serious concerns about the report's recommendations including calls that this issue be taken up in international fora outside the human rights council, and in national courts of countries not party to the conflict," he said.

Kelly said the report should be discussed within the Human Rights Council, which the United States rejoined earlier this year. He also said Israel has the democratic institutions to investigate and prosecute any abuses, and the United States encourages it to do so.

Israel has said it is appalled and disappointed by the Goldstone report, which it said equates legitimate self-defense actions by Israel to the provocations by Hamas, and rewards acts of terror.

Hamas spokesman, sidestepping the charges against their own organization, have said the report shows Israeli leaders were guilty of war crimes and should be prosecuted.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Goldstone report will harden attitudes in the region at a time when U.S. envoy George Mitchell is trying to broker an agreement bringing Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to full-scale peace talks.

Spokesman Kelly said the underlying cause of the Gaza conflict was the lack of a peace agreement and attacks by Hamas on innocent civilians.

He said the U.S. focus now is to re-launch negotiations in order to end the Middle East conflict and the humanitarian suffering it has caused.

He expressed hope the U.N. Human Rights Council and other international bodies will look to the future and to how they can support the goal of a two-state solution in the Middle East.

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