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UN to Investigate Alleged Human Rights Violations in Gaza

The U.N. Human Rights Council has voted to send an urgent fact-finding mission to Gaza to investigate alleged human rights violations there by Israel. At the end of a special session of the Council, members approved a resolution condemning Israel's military actions in Gaza by a vote of 29 to 11 and five abstentions.

The resolution criticizes Israel for the arrest of Palestinian government ministers, other officials and civilians. It condemns the military attacks against Palestinian ministries, power plants, and bridges.

The text demands that Israel end its military operations in Gaza and refrain from imposing what it calls collective punishment on Palestinian civilians. It calls for a negotiated solution to the current crisis.

Canadian Representative Terry Cormier said his country voted against the resolution because it did not provide a balanced perspective on events in Gaza.

"This draft resolution focuses almost entirely on Israel, while ignoring that party's legitimate security concerns," he said. "It also fails to acknowledge that the Palestinian Authority has the responsibility to prevent the constant firing of rockets into Israel, to resolve the present hostage-taking crisis and to prevent the reoccurrence of such criminal acts."

Pakistan's Ambassador, Masood Khan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, expressed his dismay. He said he could not understand how any country could vote against the resolution in the face of the escalation and violation of human rights in the territory.

"The crisis, Mr. President, is serious," he said. "A provocation does not justify disproportionate use of force against civilians and non-combatants in contravention of the Geneva Conventions."

John Dugard is the Special U.N. Investigator who will be going to Gaza. He presented a report to the Council at the beginning of the session in which he accused Israel of collective punishment. He also criticized Israel for violating the prohibition on measures of intimidation and terrorism in its actions in Gaza.

The Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, accused the Council of double standards and of vilifying his country.

"Allow me to remind our august Council that the current crisis on which we are meeting today was not initially provoked by the Israeli incursion into Gaza," he said. "It was triggered by the attack on our sovereign territory by Palestinian terrorist groups with the aim of sowing death."

Levanon told the Council Israel left Gaza last summer of its own free will and did not intend to return there this summer. He said the Council had to condemn the Palestinian terrorist actions, if it did not want to fall into disrepute as had its predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.