Hamas slams delay of UN Gaza report

GAZA CITY: The prime minister of the Hamas-run government in Gaza on Sunday slammed as "reckless and irresponsible" the decision by the UN Human Rights Council to postpone consideration of a damning report into the Gaza war.

Ismail Haniya blamed the Western-backed Palestinian Authority for the decision to delay a vote on the report by the former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone.

The report accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes during the three-week conflict at the turn of the year.

"The decision taken by Ramallah to withdraw the Goldstone report was reckless and irresponsible," Haniya said, referring to the West Bank government of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

He added that the decision "trades in the blood of the children of Gaza."

Hamas has led a chorus of criticism of the decision taken on Friday in the UN Human Rights Council and endorsed by several Arab and Muslim states who had previously expressed support for the report.

On Saturday, 16 Palestinian human rights groups slammed the delay, saying in a joint statement that it "denies the Palestinian people's right to an effective judicial remedy and the equal protection of the law."

"It represents the triumph of politics over human rights. It is an insult to all victims and a rejection of their rights," the groups said.

The decision was widely seen as the result of intense pressure from Washington which, along with Israel, had criticised the report and said its endorsement would derail efforts to relaunch Middle East peace talks.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) was himself responsible for this decision," a senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) told AFP.

"He was under pressure from many states, especially the United States and Britain," the official added on condition of anonymity.

The decision drew criticism from within the ranks of Abbas's Fatah party, with senior leader Mohammed Dahlan saying he was against delaying the vote to endorse the report.

"Fatah fully supports the Goldstone report. We don't know the exact reasons for delaying (the vote)," he told AFP on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, the Palestinian economy minister Bassem Khuri, an independent, resigned in protest of the decision taken on the report, according to a senior official.

The UN probe said both Israel and Palestinian groups committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the 22-day war Israel launched in response to rocket fire from the impoverished coastal enclave.

Some 1,400 Palestinians -- hundreds of them civilians, including many children -- and 13 Israelis were killed during the war, which came to an end on January 18 when both sides declared unilateral ceasefires.

The United States, which recently joined the 47-member Council after remaining on the sidelines for years, had opposed endorsement of the report, while the European Union had also expressed concern about moves to adopt a resolution endorsing its recommendations.