Israel hits back at Gaza war crimes report

Israeli leaders yesterday united in condemnation of a "biased" UN report that severely criticised their invasion of Gaza last winter and rejected the central recommendation that Israel should hold an independent investigation into the offensive.

President Shimon Peres denounced the inquiry chaired by the former South African judge, Richard Goldstone, for "making a mockery of history".

The spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the report was "conceived in sin and is the product of a union between propaganda and bias".

Israel's foreign ministry is now expected to launch a major diplomatic operation abroad aimed at preventing the UN Security Council from taking further action on the report and to protect Israeli soldiers and commanders from any possible prosecutions abroad.

The Goldstone report recommended that if Israel did not within six months launch fully independent investigations into the "serious violations" of international law it alleges, then the country should face International Criminal Court proceedings.

The report rejected Israel's explanation that it was purely acting against rocket attacks by Gaza militants and said the offensive was "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population".

Israel, like the US, is not a party to the ICC, but the Goldstone team proposed the UN Security Council use its powers to authorise a prosecution.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, is already considering the legal complexities generated by petitions from Palestinian groups arguing that the Gaza operation was mounted in territory falling within the Palestinian Authority area, and that this is enough to trigger legal action against Israeli commanders.

In New York, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, told leaders of the American Jewish Committee that "the Goldstone report is a dangerous attempt to harm the principle of self-defence by democratic states and provides legitimacy to terrorism".

He said the report was "a cynical attempt at role reversal in blaming Israel for war crimes instead of terrorist organisations". He added that Israel would work to enlist the support of Western democracies in a campaign "to prevent turning international law into a circus".

Aides to the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, who was in political control of the three-week offensive, said the report was a "prize for terror" and the comparison between those who foment terrorism and its victims is "unconscionable".

Israel Radio said the defence establishment was trying to extend legal aid to any officers who could face indictments abroad.

Explaining Israel's decision to reject appeals for co-operation with the Goldstone inquiry, Mark Regev, Mr Netanyhu's spokesman, said: "The mandate was biased from the beginning.

It would have been a mistake to give credibility to a mission that has more in common with a kangaroo court than it does with a serious investigation."

He added: "Israel is a country with a fiercely independent judiciary ... Everything done by the military in Israel is open to judicial review by the independent judiciary."

The daughter of Mr Goldstone told Army Radio that the report would have been harsher had her father, who is Jewish and a onetime prosecutor of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, not chaired the team.

Nicole Goldstone said: "My father took on this job because he thought he is doing the best thing for peace, for everyone, and also for Israel." She added: "My father did not expect to see and hear what he saw and heard."


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