Netanyahu Says UN Gaza Probe Must be “Shelved” After Inquiry Head Quits

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Palestinians flee their destroyed neighborhood on a horse and cart in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014. AFP/Thomas Coex

Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Updated at 2:59 pm (GMT +2): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said that a probe by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) into last year's Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip should be shelved in light of the recent resignation of inquiry commission head William Schabas.

"After the resignation of the committee chairman, who was biased against Israel, the report that was written at the behest of the UNHRC… needs to be shelved," Netanyahu said in a statement, slamming the rights council as "an anti-Israel body” with decisions that “has nothing to do with human rights."

Schabas was appointed last August by the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead a three-member group looking into Israeli war crimes during the 51-day assault on the coastal enclave.

In a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings, which are due to be published in March.

Schabas' departure highlights the sensitivity of the UN investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into atrocities in the Palestinian territories.

"This is the same council that in 2014 made more decisions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined," Netanyahu asserted.

"It is Hamas, the other terrorist organizations and the terrorist regimes around us that need to be investigated, not Israel," he added.

The Israeli government has already said it would not cooperate with the UNHRC committee formed to investigate violations committed during Israel's onslaught on the Gaza Strip in July and August.

More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed and 10,626 injured during unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip this summer.

According to the UN, the Israeli military killed at least 495 Palestinian children in Gaza during “Operation Protective Edge.” The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights puts the number at 518, while the Palestinian Center for Human Rights puts it at 519. All three figures exceed the total number of Israelis, civilians and soldiers, killed by Palestinians in the last decade.

The besieged enclave has also seen widespread destruction of its infrastructure, reaching levels of devastation that UN chief Ban Ki-moon called “beyond description” in a visit to the Strip on October 14.

According to the UN, at least 96,000 Palestinians homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought, and over 106,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced to UN shelters and host families.

The majority of Gaza’s 110,000 homeless people are children.

The Israeli offensive ended on August 26 with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal.

Hamas, meanwhile, blamed Israel for Schabas’ resignation.

Schabas' resignation is "the inevitable result of Israeli… pressure on the commission," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.

"Israeli pressure aims at preventing any legal action that would reveal the truth about Israeli crimes [during the Gaza onslaught]," he added.

Barhoum urged the UN to go ahead with the probe and not to bow to "any pressure or blackmail against its investigative committees."

For his part, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed Schabas' resignation, saying it was a "victory" for the Zionist state.

"It is an Israeli diplomatic victory. However, it will not change the probe's conclusions," he said.

He added that the appointment of Schabas to investigate last year's war against Gaza was like "appointing Cain to investigate who killed Abel."

Israel had long criticized Schabas' appointment, citing consultancy work he did for the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as his record as a strong critic of the Zionist state and its current political leadership.

In the letter, Schabas said a legal opinion he wrote for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012, for which he was paid $1,300, was not different from advice he had given to many other governments and organizations.

"My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public," he wrote. "This work in defense of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks."

Schabas said his work for the PLO had prompted the Human Rights Council's executive on Monday to seek legal advice about his position from UN headquarters.

"I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed," he wrote.

The commission had largely finished gathering evidence and had begun writing the report, he added.

The commission is looking into the behavior of both the Israelis and of Hamas, the resistance movement that controls Gaza.

The appointment of Schabas, who lives in Britain and teaches international law at Middlesex University, was welcomed at the time by Hamas but was harshly criticized by Zionist groups in the United States.

Schabas had said at the time he was determined to put aside any views about "things that have gone on in the past.”

(Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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