UN chief says he can’t determine if Gaza probes by Israel and the Palestinians are ‘credible’

By John Heilprin, AP
Thursday, February 4, 2010

UN chief can’t judge if Gaza probes are ‘credible’

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. secretary-general reported Thursday night he was uncertain whether Israel or the Palestinians had met U.N. demands to undertake “credible” investigations into allegations that they deliberately targeted civilians during last year’s Gaza offensive.

Ban Ki-moon’s highly anticipated report to the 192-nation General Assembly cautioned that such investigations must be conducted “wherever there are credible allegations of human rights abuses.”

Israel says it has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents, including 36 criminal probes so far, and gathered evidence from almost 100 Palestinians who had complaints or were witnesses.

The Palestinians only created a commission to carry out an investigation in late January, despite a General Assembly resolution in November urging both sides to conduct investigations by Friday.

In a short preface to his 72-page report, nearly all of which is responses by Israel and the Palestinians, Ban concluded he could not ultimately determine yet whether Israel and the Palestinians had met the General Assembly’s demands to carry out credible, independent investigations into their own actions.

He said he hoped the assembly’s resolution will, in fact, result in probes “that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards.”

But, he added that “no determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned.”

An expert U.N. panel found in September that both Israel and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during last winter’s fighting, in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including many civilians.

The panel’s 575-page investigative report, requested by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, was overseen by a respected South African jurist, Richard Goldstone.

Ban’s report takes note of the formal responses to what has come to known as the “Goldstone report,” submitted by the Israeli government and the Palestinians, in which both sides pledge to fully investigate. But the Palestinians take the approach it is unfair to compare Israel’s actions with its own.

In November, the General Assembly endorsed the Goldstone report, and urged Israel and the Palestinians to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza. It also raised the possibility of Security Council action if they don’t, having approved an Arab-drafted resolution insisting there must be some accountability, especially from Israel.

But despite the alleged violations of international law during the Gaza conflict, in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including many civilians, the possibility of any action by the 15-nation Security Council is remote, given the U.S. veto power that comes with owning one of the council’s five permanent seats.

Israel says its forces did everything it could to limit civilian casualties, but some human rights groups have voiced skepticism and said the Israeli military cannot be trusted to investigate itself.

Israel says the military operation against Gaza was launched in self-defense to protect civilians in southern Israel from rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, which is under the control of the militant Islamic Hamas group.

Hamas leaders say they did not target civilians while firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns, and that the rockets fired from Gaza were meant to hit military targets but hit civilians by mistake because they are unguided.

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