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UN Gives Gaza Probe 5 More Months

The U.N. General Assembly has adopted a resolution renewing pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians to conduct independent and credible investigations into crimes committed by both sides during the 22-day Gaza conflict that erupted in December 2008.

The General Assembly voted to give Israel and the Palestinians five more months in which to conduct investigations of alleged war crimes that are "independent, credible and in conformity with international standards."

The non-binding resolution, adopted by a vote of 98 in favor, seven against and 31 abstentions, warned that if independent investigations are not conducted "further action" may be taken by U.N. bodies including the Security Council.

Friday's meeting was a follow-up to a session held in November, in which the majority of states endorsed a report of the U.N. Human Rights Council that called for domestic investigations into alleged war crimes within three months. The U.N. fact-finding mission's report on the conflict widely became known as the Goldstone Report, for South African Justice Richard Goldstone, who led the inquiry.

Both sides submitted reports to the secretary-general, but he said he could not determine whether either had carried out credible, independent investigations.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour called Friday's vote a "victory" and said the Palestinian Authority takes seriously its responsibility to conduct investigations. "Palestine thus intends in the coming five months reporting period defined by the resolution just adopted, to carry out in the most efficient manner, an independent and credible investigation into the allegations made in the report of the fact-finding mission and to submit to the secretary-general a substantial response," he said.

Israel, which voted against the resolution, was more skeptical of the Palestinians' ability to carry out such investigations. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev: "For who exactly is the "Palestinian side" in the proposed resolution? The side that is urged to undertake 'investigations that are independent, credible, and conform to international standards?' Can the Palestinian Authority conduct an investigation in Gaza from which it was violently ousted in a bloody coup?," he said.

The United States was also among the seven countries that rejected the resolution. The others were Canada, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States strongly supports accountability for any human rights and humanitarian law violations that happened during the conflict, and urged the domestic authorities to carry out investigations. "In that regard, we note Israel's submission of a detailed 46-page report to the secretary-general providing information on its domestic investigations, and we note that the Palestinian Authority has recently established an Independent Investigative Commission," he said.

But he reiterated continuing U.S. concerns that the Goldstone report was "deeply flawed" and had an "unbalanced" focus on Israel, while failing to assign appropriate responsibility to Hamas for deliberately targeting civilians and basing its operations in heavily populated urban areas.

Israel says it launched the 22-day military offensive to stop cross-border rocket attacks by Hamas militants. The fighting killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Friday's resolution had strong support from Arab and non-aligned countries, and enjoyed wider support among European countries than the November resolution.