30 Sep

Probe Gaza crimes, US tells Israel Agencies

BALANCING ACT: Richard Goldstone arrives at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to deliver his report in which he accused both Israel and Palestinians of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip. (AFP)

GENEVA: The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process.

Michael Posner, US assistant secretary of state, said that Hamas leaders also had a responsibility to investigate crimes and to end what he called its targeting of civilians in Israel and use of Palestinians as human shields.

The UN Human Rights Council held a one-day debate on a report issued this month by Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist and former UN war crimes prosecutor.

His panel found the Israeli Army and Palestinian fighters committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during their December-January war. Israel did not cooperate with the UN inquiry and has rejected the report as biased.

“We encourage Israel to utilize appropriate domestic (judicial) review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow up on credible allegations,” Posner said in a speech to the Geneva forum. “If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace,” he said.

But he also said Goldstone’s report was “deeply flawed,” without providing any details. Washington disagreed with the report’s “methodology and many of its recommendations,” he said.

Goldstone told a news conference it was encouraging that the United States “has called for acceptable investigations of the allegations by both sides. I think that’s important support.”

He urged the United Nations to refer Israel and the Palestinians to the International Criminal Court if they failed to investigate the alleged war crimes.

Goldstone called on the UN Human Rights Council to hand both sides an ultimatum to launch investigations into the alleged crimes within six months or be referred to the international court in The Hague.

Presenting his report to the council, he urged the international body to “end the culture of impunity in the region that has existed for too long.”

“The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point,” he told the council.

Meanwhile, lawyers have asked a British court to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is in the country to meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other officials.

Tayab Ali, one of several lawyers representing a coalition of Palestinian groups, said papers his group filed in the City of Westminster Magistrates Court accuse Barak of violating the Geneva conventions and committing war crimes while directing Israel’s Gaza offensive. “We think anybody suspected of war crimes should be brought to justice,” said Ali, who brought the case on behalf of a group of civilians and a human rights organization in Gaza.

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