UN to discuss Gaza report next week

The United Nations Security Council has agreed to discuss the Goldstone report, which accused Israel and Palestinian armed groups of committing war crimes during the Gaza offensive, next week during an emergency meeting.


AFP - A contentious UN report blasting the Israeli military offensive in Gaza will be raised next week as part of a rescheduled Security Council debate on the Middle East, diplomats said Wednesday.

The compromise move by a divided council was agreed in closed-door consultations following a Libyan request, backed by Arab, Islamic and nonaligned countries, for "an emergency meeting" to consider the UN report.

The report, released by an independent international fact-finding mission headed by former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone last month, accused Israel and Palestinian armed groups of committing war crimes during the three-week Gaza war that erupted December 27.

The Goldstone panel asked the UN secretary general to bring its report to the attention of the UN Security Council for follow-up action, which could be a referral to the International Criminal Court.

US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff told reporters that the 15-member Security Council agreed only to bring forward the regular monthly debate on the Middle East from October 20 to next Wednesday.

"We advanced the monthly debate on the Middle East from October 20 to October 14," he told reporters. "All delegations are free as they always are each month to raise whatever issue they think is pertinent to that issue."

Wolff described the Goldstone report as "flawed" and noted: "The right venue to discuss that is in Geneva and in the Human Rights Council."

But Arab ambassadors made it clear that they planned to use next Wednesday's debate to turn the spotlight on the findings of the report, which was harshly critical of Israel.

"We are going to have an open debate. The foreign minister of Palestine will participate," Libyan Ambassador to the UN Abdurrhman Shalgham said, noting that the aim was "to keep the momentum regarding this report."

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council has postponed until March 2010 its vote on the Goldstone report.

In Washington, the State Department on Wednesday again backed a delay in the Human Rights Council vote on the contentious report.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said such a delay could help contribute to creating an atmosphere favorable to dialogue after the report's release last month triggered an outcry.

"All of our energies right now are being employed to move this process forward, and we want to clear the decks of any issues that might impede our progress towards this," said Kelly.

A Western diplomat said most council ambassadors did not back the Libyan push for a meeting focused exclusively on the Goldstone report.

But Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian observer to the United Naations, underscored the broad support which the Libyan initiative received from Arab, Islamic and nonaligned nations, which make up the majority of the UN membership.

He said Arab states highlighted the importance of a priority recommendation in the Goldstone report "requesting Israel and the Palestinian side to conduct investigations (of alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity)  following their own national legal systems within a span of a maximum six months."

The probes are to be "supervised by an independent body from the Security Council to make sure that these investigations are conducted in good faith (and) guided by international humanitarian law," he added.

And Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, who currently chairs the 22-member UN Arab group, said the group decided that the Goldstone report "should be operationalized and should not be sidelined."

He warned that if the council fails to implement the Goldstone report's recommendations, "We will go to the (192-member) UN General Assembly."

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