The U.N. General Assembly began discussion Wednesday of a U.N. report on war crimes allegedly committed by Palestinian militants and the Israeli army during Israel's offensive last December in the Gaza Strip. Arab and non-aligned nations introduced a resolution calling on the two parties to launch credible investigations of alleged war crimes within three months.
The report commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council found that both sides committed serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. But the council reserved its harshest criticism for Israeli actions, saying Israel used disproportionate force and failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians during its campaign to silence Hamas rocket attacks.
Israel has dismissed the report and did not cooperate with the U.N. fact-finding mission, led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. Addressing the General Assembly, Israel's Ambassador Gabriela Shalev repeated her government's position that Israel was acting in self-defense. She called the commission's mandate "one-sided" and characterized the Human Rights Council as obsessed with Israel. She said the report was conceived in "hate" and its conclusions "predetermined."
"Today's debate is anything but genuine and candid. Rather than discuss how to better stop terrorist groups who deliberately target civilians, this body launches yet another campaign against the victims of terrorism - the people of Israel," said Shalev.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the Palestinian authorities take very seriously the allegations in the Goldstone report regarding possible violations by Hamas. But he said there is no comparison between their actions and those of Israel.
"While you get ready to vote, I appeal to you to remember our children who are still suffering the devastating injuries and the destruction inflicted upon them by the occupying power," he said.
"They still live in fear due to the bombardment of their homes. They, and other victims, continue to suffer from the devastating injuries inflicted upon them by the use of lethal weaponry, including white phosphorous, that has physically and psychologically maimed or traumatized them," he added.
He added that the Palestinian side is committed to carrying out a domestic investigation of the allegations as called for in the report's recommendations. But he did not say how the Palestinian authorities planned to do that, since the Gaza Strip is under the control of Hamas and not the Palestinian Authority.
Israel launched its military campaign on December 27, 2008. During three weeks of conflict, at least 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
Arab states, non-aligned countries and the European Union expressed support for the report's recommendation calling for speedy and credible investigations at the domestic level. Barring that, the report recommends further action, possibly in the Security Council.
Diplomats say the draft resolution endorsing the Goldstone report is likely to be approved by the 192-member body. But more than 40 speakers have asked to address the assembly, which could push a vote into Thursday.