Page last updated at 23:04 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Goldstone report: Israel and Palestinians respond to UN

Child injured during Operation Cast Lead (file pic)
Israel has been criticised over the number of civilian casualties

Israel and West Bank Palestinians have responded to the UN's Goldstone report which accused both of them of war crimes during Israel's Gaza operation.

The Israeli defence minister said there was no army as "responsible... moral and accurate...even under impossible conditions," as Israel.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN said a high-level commission had been set up to investigate war crime claims.

The UN secretary general is to report early next month on any further steps.

The UN General Assembly has demanded that both Israel and Hamas launch independent investigations into their conduct during the 22-day Israeli operation which began in December 2008.

When Secretary General Ban Ki-moon make his own recommendations for further action in early February, he is not expected to advocate a process leading to international criminal trials, as proposed by South African judge Richard Goldstone.

A former international war crimes prosecutor, Mr Goldstone investigated the offensive, and said crimes had been committed on both sides.

He accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure during the conflict, in which human rights groups say about 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

Children in Gaza Strip
The report accuses Israel of using "disproportionate force" in Gaza

An Israeli official said the submission to the UN was not intended to respond in detail to the allegations and incidents outlined in the report, but to explain why the Israeli justice system was "reliable" and "independent".

"The Goldstone report is distorted, falsified and not balanced," said Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

Fighters and commanders on Israeli operations should know that "the state of Israel stands behind you also on the day after," he added.

Israel has been widely criticised by human rights groups for using heavy firepower and causing hundreds of civilian casualties.

It says it was targeting the Islamic movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, in response to continued rocket fire at Israeli towns.

Israel blames Hamas for firing from residential areas and putting civilians at risk, and says its own interpretation of international law is in line with other Western countries such as the US and UK.

Arrest fears

Pressure has been growing within Israel to mount some form of independent inquiry.

In December, a UK court issued an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes for former Foreign Minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners in the UK have tried several times to have Israeli officials arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

This allows domestic courts in countries around the world to try war crimes suspects, even if the crime took place outside the country and the suspect is not a citizen.

A key factor in the issuing of warrants is whether the country in question has carried out an independent inquiry.

130 investigations

A senior Israeli government official told the BBC there is now consensus within the cabinet, except for Mr Barak, that some kind of investigative body independent from the military should be established.

One compromise option may be a panel of judicial figures to review the conclusions of internal military investigations, the official said.

The Israeli military has opened about 130 investigations into specific incidents, of which about 30 are criminal investigations.

At least 48 have been closed with no wrongdoing found. One has resulted in the prosecution of a soldier for stealing a Palestinian's credit card.

According to the foreign ministry, as of November, 26 of the investigations, 10 of them criminal, are among the 36 incidents the Goldstone report details.

Human rights groups such as the Israeli organisation B'tselem have been involved in helping arrange for Gazans to give testimony in the criminal probes.

They believe criminal investigations include:

  • Six incidents where civilians carrying white flags were allegedly shot
  • Six cases of alleged use of human shields
  • Two alleged uses of flechette shells filled with small darts
  • The case of the Samouni family, where witnesses say more than 20 people were killed in an attack on house Israeli troops had told them to gather in.

West Bank commission

Meanwhile, Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour told journalists that his government had this week set up a high-level commission to investigate the charges of war crimes.

Mr Mansour submitted its programme of action to Mr Ban.

He said this was the response of the West Bank Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian government in Gaza, led by the Islamist Hamas movement, came out with its own response earlier this week, but did not formally submit it.

It rejected charges of war crimes, saying its rockets were not targeting civilians.

That conclusion is disputed by the international Human Rights Watch organisation.

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