Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: Israeli Official - Gaza Report 'Biased, Unfair'

by David Bedein

Assessment Of Shootings On UN Sites During Gaza War Draws Ire
An official U.N. report that studied the Israeli shootings at U.N. institutions during Israel’s December/January incursion into Gaza accuses Israel of grave offenses, including disproportionate shooting and deliberately hitting U.N. civilians and institutions.

The special report, written by former Amnesty International head Ian Martin, studied the circumstances surrounding the Israeli fire that was directed at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) institutions in Gaza in the course of the incursion, referred to by Israel as Operation Cast Lead.

Jerusalem is putting heavy pressure on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to delay the publication of the report, or at least reduce the grave charges.

The committee members, headed by Mr. Martin, visited the Gaza Strip in February and met with top Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel Foreign Ministry representatives. The Israelis then showed the members of the U.N. committee detailed findings related to the shooting incidents at UNRWA facilities in the course of the operation.

Israel’s representatives presented aerial photographs, unmanned aerial vehicle photographs and other intelligence material that showed Hamas activities near the UNRWA facilities, which exploited the latter’s immunity.

The IDF carried out a special inquiry in response to the U.N.’s allegations. At the end of the inquiry, Israeli military figures said many measures had been taken to avoid hitting U.N. installations and vehicles, or those belonging to the Red Cross and other international organizations.

Relating to the incident of the shooting at the UNRWA school in Jabalya, the army contended that Hamas fighters fired mortar shells at IDF troops from a point approximately 260 feet from the school.

After identifying the source of the mortar fire with certainty, the information was verified and cross-referenced, and the IDF force that came under fire carried out what it considered was a proportional and minimal counterattack.

The IDF responded to the U.N. comments regarding the strikes against its vehicles, stating: “[1]n one case it was found that a U.N. vehicle was hit as a result of shots fired contrary to orders, and the soldier who opened fire will be court-martialed on disciplinary charges.”

The report reached the U.N. secretary-general’s desk a few days ago, and it is liable to generate a diplomatic earthquake. The report’s authors chose to ignore Israel’s contentions and unequivocally determined that Israel deliberately fired at U.N. institutions even though it knew it was forbidden.

The report accuses Israel of disproportionate fire and excessive use of force. The report also states Israel unnecessarily and excessively shot at Palestinian civilians.

The report is worded in a one-sided manner and includes numerous and grave charges against Israel, while almost entirely ignoring Hamas’ actions during the conflict and the ongoing rocket attacks against Israeli communities.

Some who have seen the report say its authors completely ignored the information Israel passed on to the U.N. after the Gaza incursion.

The report’s main recommendation is liable to get Israel into hot water in the diplomatic sphere and create enormous damage: the appointment of an independent U.N. investigative committee that will thoroughly investigate the operations and other steps taken during the Gaza incursion, which would check whether Israel abided by international laws and charters during the operation.

The independent investigative committee would be sent by the U.N. secretary-general and would take testimony from Palestinians and from UNRWA workers to further investigate whether Israel committed war crimes or deviated from international law.

Such a committee likely would generate a wave of international condemnation against Israel and would open up the possibility of charging top Israeli officials in legal institutions all over the world and drag Israel into deep diplomatic mud.

When the intention to make the report public became known, the new Israel Foreign Ministry director-general, Yossi Gal, left for New York to receive the draft of the report and to hold talks with top U.N. officials.

He hopes to persuade them to delay publication, change some of the sharp language and to obtain a promise the secretary-general will seek to balance the report’s harsh findings in the press conference that will take place after the report comes out.

Israeli officials are very troubled by the timing of the publication - on the eve of this morning’s meeting between President Shimon Peres and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

An Israeli government official said: “The secretary-general’s report is biased, unfair, suffers from blindness and ignores the circumstances that were in place in the course of Operation Cast Lead when Hamas made use of the population as a human shield and fired from inside houses and from inside and close to U.N. installations.”

A member of the French U.N. delegation said if the report’s conclusion are accepted, it could drag Israel into a relentless diplomatic war that was worse than what it underwent during the Second Intifada.

In addition, the report’s conclusion is liable to spark a wave of international repercussions toward Israel and turn it into a main target of human rights organizations.

The chances are increasing that the report will be released next week, which will give Israel a new challenge. It will require it to launch a comprehensive campaign to prevent the conclusion of the U.N. Security Council’s report from being accepted as is.

In addition, it is not out of the question that Israel will be condemned in the U.N. Security Council, since the U.S. will find it hard to veto an official conclusion of a report of the U.N. secretary-general.

See this story in the Philadelphia Bulletin
See this story at Israel Behind the News

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