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UN Assembly Draft Urges Action on Gaza 'War Crimes'

by Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS - Arab U.N. delegates circulated a draft resolution on Monday that would require Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bring a U.N. report alleging war crimes in the Gaza Strip before the Security Council.

A special meeting of the 192-nation assembly on Wednesday will debate the U.N. report on the December-January war in the Gaza Strip and vote on the draft resolution.

That report accused Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants of war crimes and was prepared by a U.N. fact-finding commission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

The Arab draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, says the assembly "requests the Secretary-General to transmit the report ... to the Security Council." It also urges Israel and the Palestinians to comply with the report's recommendations for launching investigations into allegations of war crimes.

The draft also tells Ban to report back to the assembly within three months on implementation of the resolution.

Arab and Western diplomats told Reuters there was little doubt a majority of the General Assembly would vote in favour of the Arab draft. But negotiations were underway as Arab delegates sought to persuade Western powers to back the text.

Western diplomats said the United States would most likely vote against the resolution. Unless it is revised, they said, most European delegations would join Washington and reject it.

Resolutions of the General Assembly, unlike those of the Security Council, are nonbinding. But U.N. diplomats say such a resolution would intensify pressure on Israel to launch a full investigation into the actions of its army during the war.

The Goldstone report lambasted both sides in the war, which killed up to 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, but was harsher towards Israel. It gave Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants six months to mount credible investigations or face possible prosecution in The Hague.

WESTERN DIPLOMATS REJECT ARAB DRAFT

Both Israel and Hamas denied committing any war crimes. Israel has criticized the report as unbalanced and says the 47-nation Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report, is biased against the Jewish state.

An Israeli official in New York condemned both the report and the assembly's discussion of it. "At a time when we are debating restarting peace talks, this is not helpful to anyone," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Diplomats said the five veto-wielding permanent council members -- United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- all agreed that there was no point in bringing the issue to the Security Council, which meant it was unlikely the 15-nation panel would do anything with the Goldstone report.

The Arab draft resolution does not explicitly endorse a Human Rights Council resolution from last month that censured Israel for its actions in the Gaza war without referring to any wrongdoing by Hamas. The United States voted against that resolution while France and Britain abstained from the vote.

But it does endorse an HRC report that included the resolution. Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem said it amounted to a full endorsement of the HRC resolution.

"It endorses the Human Rights Council resolution, that is the point," he told Reuters. " And it exposes the double standards that some permanent Security Council members have towards the occupying power in Palestine."

Several Western diplomats told Reuters the Arab draft was "unacceptable" because of its endorsement of the HRC actions and for requesting Security Council intervention.

Abdalhaleem said the Arabs had rejected an earlier European draft that said the General Assembly would merely "take note" of the Goldstone report and pass the issue back to the HRC.

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