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Goldstone rejects Israel protests

Richard Goldstone visits Gaza in June 2009
Judge Goldstone visited Gaza but was barred by Israel from its territory

UN human rights investigator Richard Goldstone has rejected Israel's claim that the peace process would be harmed by his report on the offensive in Gaza.

Judge Goldstone said there was no peace process at present and Israel's foreign minister did not want there to be one.

The Goldstone report, which has been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council, accuses both Israel and Hamas militants of committing war crimes.

Mr Goldstone's remarks came in a conference call with American rabbis.

"It's a shallow, utterly false allegation," Mr Goldstone said of Israel's attempt to brand his report as an obstacle to peace.

"What peace process are they talking about? There isn't one. The Israeli foreign minister doesn't want one," Mr Goldstone said.

"If the Israeli government set up an appropriate, open investigation, it will really be the end of the matter. That's where the report would end as far as Israel is concerned," he added.

Israeli air strike in Rafah, Gaza, on 13 January 2009
The report accuses Israel of using "disproportionate force" in Gaza

He was speaking days after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke of his belief that the Arab-Israeli conflict would not be resolved in the coming years, and people should "learn to live with it".

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the 22-day conflict that ended in January, but Israel puts the figure at 1,166. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.

In the report, Mr Goldstone calls for the war crimes allegations to be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague unless the parties to the Gaza war investigate them.

If the report comes before the UN Security Council, the US is expected to veto any call for ICC action against Israel.

Favourable

On Tuesday, Israel's Security Cabinet hardened the country's rejection of an independent inquiry.

Earlier reports said discussion about setting up an inquiry had been on the agenda of the meeting, which brings together seven ministers with security responsibilities.

However, an official said it was blocked by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, an architect of Israel's winter onslaught, supported by Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister in March.

Both men have called the UN report one-sided and said it undermined Israel's right to defend itself. They argue internal investigations by the Israeli military are already dealing with a small number of violations.

Abbas and Mubarak in Cairo
UN adoption of Goldstone was a boost to the beleaguered Mr Abbas (left)

"Our struggle is to delegitimize the continuing attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel. The most important sphere we need to work in is the sphere of public opinion in the democratic world," Mr Netanyahu was quoted telling the cabinet.

Foreign and justice ministry officials are reported to favour setting up an investigation in the hope of defusing an international row which is widely seen to have done damage to Israel's reputation.

Instead, ministers agreed on the establishment a legal-diplomatic panel to handle any possible war crimes prosecutions against Israel or its citizens.

Separately, Palestinian Authority President and Fatah party leader Mahmoud Abbas has been holding talks in Cairo with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

It is the latest in a long-running process attempting to reach a reconciliation deal between Fatah and the other main Palestinian faction, Hamas.

Aides of Mr Abbas have accused Hamas, which runs Gaza, of shirking a commitment to sign the Egyptian-mediated agreement after Fatah signed it.

Hamas says it will sign the document as long as there are no clauses added that have not been agreed.

It said its previous request for a postponement was to give it time to study new Egyptian proposals, and to comment on the Goldstone report.



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