UN: 5 more months for Gaza probes

Israel, Palestinians warned of “further action” if they fail to investigate Cast Lead allegations.

operation cast lead (photo credit: Associated Press)
operation cast lead
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The UN General Assembly voted Friday to give Israel and the Palestinians an additional five months to conduct independent investigations of war crimes allegedly committed during last year's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and warned of possible "further action" by UN bodies, including the Security Council, if they don't.
The Palestinian-drafted resolution was adopted by a vote of 98-7 with 31 abstentions. Fifty-six countries did not vote, probably because of difficulties getting to UN headquarters as heavy snow fell in New York City.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, called the vote a "victory to the victims of the Palestinian people and victory to international humanitarian law."
In November, the 192-member world body gave Israel and the Palestinians three months to undertake "independent, credible investigations" into the findings of a UN-appointed expert panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. It concluded that both sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the Gaza conflict.
The assembly asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back on implementation of the resolution in three months. But in his highly anticipated report in early February, Ban said he could not determine whether the Israelis or Palestinians had conducted credible investigations.
That set the stage for Friday's follow-up resolution, which was consponsored by more than 20 mainly Islamic countries.
Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, reiterated the government's opposition to the Goldstone report and said "Israel is conducting and will continue to conduct, investigations that are independent, credible in conformity with international standards" into its actions in Gaza.
According to Channel 10, Shalev asked whether the General Assembly could allow for the Palestinian Authority to conduct the investigation in the Gaza Strip, after Hamas violently took control over the territory.
The Israeli envoy reportedly went on to ask whether Hamas, a terror organization, was capable of conducting such an investigation.
Shalev ended her speech by vowing that “Israel will never stop defending itself from the terrorists.“
But the Palestinians and many Arab and non-Arab speakers who took the floor after the vote insisted that the Israeli investigations are not independent.
The Palestinians acknowledged that they only created a commission to carry out an investigation in late January.
Mansour welcomed the decline in the number of countries opposing the resolution from 18 in November to just seven.
He noted that the European Union, which was deeply divided in November with some countries voting for the resolution, some against and some abstaining, was more supportive in Friday's vote. No EU country voted "no" and more EU members supported the resolution including Britain, France and Spain, he said.
Some EU members had objected to the draft text calling on Switzerland to reconvene a meeting of the parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention "within five months" to enforce the convention, which spells out the obligations of an occupying power. The reference to five months was replaced in the final version with the words "as soon as possible," the same language as the November resolution.
US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff, who voted against the resolution,reiterated that the US considers the Goldstone report "deeply flawed"and "unbalanced" in its focus on Israel and "its failure to assignappropriate responsibility to Hamas for deliberately targetingcivilians."
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions arenot legally binding but they do reflect the views of the broader UNmembership.