UN council endorses Gaza report

GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council endorsed a report on Friday that accused Israel and the Palestinian hardliners Hamas of war crimes in the Gaza conflict, dealing a fresh diplomatic blow to the Jewish state.

While Israel had said such a move would be tantamount to "rewarding terror", the Palestinians welcomed the resolution which it said should be the trigger for follow-up action from the UN Security Council.

Some 25 of the council's 47 members, led by the Arab and African states, voted for the resolution. Six, including the United States, voted against while 16 others either abstained or did not vote. Reax: Israel slams report

The resolution calls for the endorsement of "the recommendations contained in the report" produced by a fact-finding mission led by international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to probe the 22-day conflict.

It also "calls upon all concerned parties including United Nations bodies, to ensure their implementation."

Goldstone concluded that both Israel and Hamas, Gaza's rulers, committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict launched by Israel in response to rocket fire from the enclave in late December 2008.

The report also recommends referring its conclusions to the International Criminal Court prosecutor in The Hague, if Israel and Hamas fail to conduct credible investigations within six months.

The vote came just two days after Israel and the Palestinians came under international pressure during a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East to produce "credible" domestic probes of war crimes allegedly committed during the Gaza conflict.

Welcoming the outcome, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the international action should not end there.

"We hope this will be followed up in the UN Security Council to ensure such Israeli crimes are not repeated," Erakat told AFP.

While there was no immediate response from Israel, its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier urged the council to reject the resolution.

"Responsible nations have to vote against this decision that supports terror and harms peace," Netanyahu told reporters after a meeting with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero late Thursday.

Explaining Washington's reasons for opposing the resolution, US ambassador Douglas Griffiths said: "We had worked for a resolution that recognized the right of a state to take legitimate action to protect its citizens in the face of threats to their security while also condemning violations of international law regardless of the actor.

"Regrettably, this is not the resolution that is before us today."

The Islamist movement Hamas is regarded by Israel and the West as a terrorist organisation after carrying out dozens of suicide attacks.

The conflict in Gaza, that erupted on 27 December 2008, left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Meanwhile, Goldstone himself, who was in Bern for a conference Thursday, also criticised the UN Council resolution for targetting only Israel and failing to include Hamas.

The UN resolution is peppered with references to "recent Israeli violations of human rights in occupied east Jerusalem" but failed to make any direct mention to Hamas.

"This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Isreal. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope that the council can modify the text," said Goldstone in remarks published in Swiss newspaper Le Temps ahead of the vote.