UN chief says Israel investigating ‘every allegation’ against its Gaza actions

By John Heilprin, AP
Thursday, February 4, 2010

UN chief says Israel probing ‘every’ Gaza charge

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. secretary-general reported Thursday night that Israel has “followed up on every allegation” that it committed war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians during last year’s Gaza offensive.

Ban Ki-moon’s highly anticipated report to the 192-nation General Assembly finds Israel 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.

But he cautions that such investigations must be conducted “in a timely manner” and tells the U.N.’s member nations there is still “the need to ensure that legal processes are conducted thoroughly and with full due process” like those in other law-abiding nations.

In the 72-page report, Ban notes that Israel has so far “followed up on every allegation, regardless of whether the source was neutral, hostile or friendly” and that a Palestinian commission created only last month will spend three months investigating.

“Israel recognizes the importance of engaging in dialogue and sharing best practices on the conduct of its investigative proceedings with other democratic states facing similar challenges and committed to upholding the rule of law,” Ban’s report concludes.

Ban says that Israel’s system for investigating the war crimes allegations is “comparable to the systems adopted by other democratic nations” including Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.

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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