The UN General Assembly was expected on Friday to demand Israelis and Palestinians probe alleged war crimes during the Gaza conflict, as European countries moved to back the call.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian observer to the UN, said on Thursday that he was confident a draft resolution he put forward giving both sides five months to conduct independent probes would get overwhelming support at a plenary assembly meeting scheduled for Friday.
In the wake of the 22-day Israeli onslaught on Gaza that began in late December 2008, a UN enquiry panel had accused both Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Palestinian coastal enclave, of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
About 1 400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Israeli military blitz in response to unrelenting rocket-fire into Israel from Gaza.
“We expect a higher number of votes in favor of the [non-binding] draft resolution,” Mansour said.
Last November, the 192-member assembly overwhelmingly passed a similar resolution calling for credible, independent investigations of the war crime charges by February 5, with 114 voting in favor, 18 against, and 44 abstaining.
Many European Union countries, including Britain, France, Sweden and Spain, abstained after failing to secure amendments to the text, including one that would have dropped references to possible Security Council action if findings by a UN enquiry panel were not implemented.
Israel, which had strenuously opposed the text and the UN report which it endorsed, voted against as did its staunchest ally, the United States, along with Australia and a few European countries.
“I think the great majority of European countries will vote in favor this time, although there might be a few abstentions,” Mansour said.
Several European diplomats confirmed that many EU members planned to approve the Palestinian text as they view it as relatively mild.
The draft again calls on the Israelis and the Palestinians “to conduct investigations that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards”.
It asks UN chief Ban Ki-moon to report back to the assembly “within a period of five months on the implementation of the present resolution, with a view to the consideration of further action, if necessary, by the relevant UN organs and bodies, including the Security Council.”
Last year, Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who headed the UN inquiry panel, recommended that both sides face possible prosecution before the International Criminal Court in The Hague if they failed to conduct credible, independent investigations within six months.
Israel, in a recent report on the allegations, denied violating international law, but admitted “tragic results” due to the “complexity and scale” of conducting a military operation in a heavily populated area.
It also noted that two Israeli senior officers — a brigadier general and a colonel — had been disciplined for the firing of white phosphorus shells toward a UN compound.
A similar report from the Palestinian side said a commission of five well-known judges and legal experts had been set up to look into allegations of war crimes on its side during the conflict.
Mansour expressed hope the Palestinian side will be able to submit “a substantive report” within the next five months.
“If the Israelis continue to refuse an independent probe, they will then be isolated and this may pave the way for pressure on the Security Council to act,” he added.
A key finding of the Goldstone report was that the Jewish state used disproportionate force in response to repeated rocket attacks by Gaza-based militants and failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians during its Gaza onslaught. – AFP