NEW YORK – The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla, and in harsh language called for a Goldstone-like probe of the military operation that left nine dead.
During a second bruising day of debate in Geneva, the 47-member body passed a resolution with a majority vote of 32. The United States voted against the Palestinian-backed document and several European countries, including France and England, abstained.
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The resolution accuses Israel of violating international law and calls for the immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade.
It also calls for “an independent international fact finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance.”
'Deeply disturbed' by loss of life, US calls for disclosure of facts
In an explanation of its vote, the American envoy said the US is “deeply disturbed” by the violence and condemned the acts that resulted in the loss of so many lives.
“Unfortunately, the resolution before us rushes to judgment on a set of facts that, as our debate over the last day makes clear, are only beginning to be discovered and understood,” the American ambassador, Eileen Donahoe, said Wednesday.
“It creates an international mechanism before giving the responsible government an opportunity to investigate itself and therefore risks further politicizing a sensitive and volatile situation.”
Italy and the Netherlands also voted against the resolution. Boudewijn J. Van Eenennaam, the envoy from the Netherlands, said a “parallel investigation” by the Human Rights Council would “not be conducive to the aim of re-launching the Middle East peace process.”
The Human Rights Council passed a similar resolution following Operation Cast Lead in 2009, resulting in the Goldstone report, which accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes, but reserved harsh criticism for Israel’s actions during the Gaza war.
Several EU states abstained from Wednesday’s vote when their provisions were not included in the final draft.
“We believe that it is less important to prescribe the exact form of investigations than to ensure that the full facts are brought to light and that there is accountability for what happened,” the UK representative in Geneva, Peter Gooderham, said.
UN Watch director: Flotilla organizers aimed for provocation
Prior to the vote, nongovernmental organizations addressed the council. Citing Israel’s offer to transfer the flotilla’s cargo to Gaza prior to the interception, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said the flotilla activists and organizers “wanted to create a political provocation; they were looking for a physical confrontation.”
He also noted the use of metal bars, knives and guns by activists aboard the ship.
“Is this a humanitarian state of mind?” he asked.
On Tuesday, Israeli Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar expressed Israel’s regret for the loss of life, but said Israel’s actions conformed to international law.
“The assault against Israeli forces was a premeditated act,” he said.
But the majority of countries sharply criticized what they said was an excessive use of force by Israel.
At UN headquarters in New York, meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a series of separate meetings with ambassadors from Israel, Turkey, Arab nations and the five permanent members of the Security Council to discuss how to implement the council's call for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."
Ban said an investigation should deal with all aspects of the incident — not just legal violations — and he told reporters there were "various options."
But he cautioned that "you may have to wait some time before I make a decision."
The secretary-general explained that there must be "common denominators, common understandings among the parties concerned" on an investigation and at the moment "the views are different, diverse."
"Therefore, I need to refine some elements which can get support from all the parties concerned including the Israeli government," Ban said.
'Had the blockade been lifted, the tragedy wouldn't have occurred'
Ban said the Israeli authorities "must provide as soon as possible a full accounting of the incident" and he demanded that Israel lift the blockade of Gaza immediately.
Noting his repeatedly calls in the past for the blockade to be lifted, Ban said "if this had been done, this tragedy would have been avoided."
Earlier Tuesday, the UN Security Council condemned the Israeli military
operation during an emergency session in New York. The
moderately-worded statement called for the immediate release of ships
and civilians detained by Israel and requested a “prompt, impartial,
credible and transparent investigation conforming to international
Afterward, 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.
But on Wednesday, questions arose to what constitutes an “impartial,
credible and transparent investigation” and whether Israel was
qualified to probe its own actions in the matter.