UNHRC calls for flotilla probe

Top refugee council demands Goldstone-like inquiry into raid.

June 2, 2010 06:15
4 minute read.
A ship protesting the Gaza blockade

GazaProtestFlotilla311. (photo credit: .)

NEW YORK – Following UN condemnation of Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, members of the UN Human Rights Council are calling for a Goldstone-like inquiry into the Israeli military operation.

A draft resolution, sponsored by Pakistan, Palestine and Sudan, “condemns in the strongest terms possible the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces” and calls for an “independent fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla ships carrying humanitarian assistance.”

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A vote is expected on Wednesday.

The 47-member body met in Geneva on Tuesday, hours after the Security Council condemned the Israeli military operation during an emergency session in New York. Israeli naval forces on Monday intercepted six ships bound for Gaza, killing at least 10 and wounding dozens more in what Israel says was self-defense after its officers were attacked by those aboard one of the ships.

Early Tuesday, the UN Security Council condemned the Israeli operation. In a statement released after midnight New York time, the Security Council requested the immediate release of ships and civilians detained by Israel and called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”

The 15-member body requested that Israel release detained ships and civilians, and permit the transfer of the convoy’s humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
“The Security Council stresses that the situation in Gaza is not sustainable,” the statement read. “In that context, they reiterate their grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” and stress the need for regular flow of goods and people to Gaza.

In the aftermath of the council meeting on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed shock on Monday at the violence and called for a “full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place.”

Lieberman said he regretted the international community’s double standard when it came to Israel. Israel was condemned for defending itself against a group that supports terrorism, while the international community was silent last month when 500 people were killed in Thailand, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and India, he said.

He called those aboard the flotilla “thugs” who had used clubs, iron bars and knives to attack Israeli soldiers. The flotilla was an attempt to harm Israel’s sovereignty and to create a provocation that would lead to bloodshed, said Lieberman.

The Security Council resolution is “unacceptable” and does not promote “stability and peace in the Middle East,” he added.

Still, Israeli officials reportedly worked behind the scenes of the closed-door Security Council meeting to moderate the language of the final resolution.

Afterward, American officials said many questions remained about what happened leading up to, and during, the Israeli naval raid. But US diplomats expressed full confidence in Israel to investigate fully.

“We think the Israelis are capable of doing a full investigation,” Alejandro Wolff, US deputy permanent representative to the UN, told reporters in New York.

“There are ways that are effective, that are non-provocative, and not likely to result in these sorts of actions, if one wanted to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza,” he said.

Statements from some flotilla participants suggested “maybe it was not solely to provide humanitarian assistance, but it may have been intended to provoke,” he said. “That’s why an investigation is so important.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev rejected calls for a UN investigation, stressing that it was standard operating procedure to investigate military incidents.

“These calls for an international UN investigation is simply holding Israel to a standard that no one else is held to,” he said, during a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “It’s a clear bias against my country that you see at the UN all too often.”

Though Israel made every effort to avoid conflict on the high seas, Regev said it was “totally within our legal rights” to enforce a naval blockade on Gaza. Naval servicemen had been instructed to use maximum restraint and a minimum amount of force, but were met with Molotov cocktails and crowbar-wielding attackers.

“They initiated the violence,” he said. “The soldiers had to defend themselves.”

In Geneva, UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay swiftly condemned Israel’s actions, setting the tone for a debate in the Human Rights Council, which mandated the Goldstone inquiry into Operation Cast Lead last year.

“We need to establish exactly what happened,” Pillay said in a statement read at the opening of the debate. “However, nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation, which reportedly took place in international waters.”

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Spain condemned the use of violence and said the EU could not “accept the continued policy of closure,” referring to the blockade on Gaza.

In Geneva, Israeli Ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar expressed Israel’s regret for the loss of life, but he said activists who had attacked IDF soldiers had done so intentionally.

“The assault against Israeli forces was a premeditated act,” he said. “They were not on a humanitarian mission, but one of provocation and incitement. They used knives and clubs and shot two Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces had no choice but to defend themselves,” he said.

“They were a lynch mob, and that is what caused the tragic events,” he said.

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