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Israel preps for UN reports on Gaza assault

July 27, 2009 1:07 P.M. (Updated: July 28, 2009 6:41 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - Israel's Foreign Ministry is preparing a defense brief in advance of two United Nations reports on its military's conduct in Gaza last winter, the country's press reported.

Both the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz reported on Monday that a group of legal experts is writing a response to the findings of the two commissions, which they expect will be harsh.

The UN Commission on Human Rights investigative committee headed by Jewish South African Justice Richard Goldstone is expected to release its findings in September, while an earlier report investigating Israeli culpability in the destruction of UN property during their war on Gaza was handed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in May. Israel will be given a chance to view both reports in full before they are released to the public.

Israel's assault on Gaza last winter killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and injured more than 5,000. Israel fears that facts compiled in the two UN commissions would serve as evidence for victims of the Gaza operation, who could then take legal action against Israel at the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"The road to international courts is very short from the point we are at right now," a government source reportedly said, according to Haaretz. The operation has already in part been labeled a war crime by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Haaretz quoted the same government source as saying that the Foreign Ministry's legal department wants their response to contain the "Israeli narrative" of the assault. Members of the Justice Ministry's international department and Military Advocate General's international law department are helping out, as well.

"[T]he document would be extensive and include the 'whole story' from the Israeli perspective," Haaretz reported. It would include the "reasons for the operation, the security situation in the south [of Israel] after disengagement [from Gaza], the phases of the operation and the orders given to the army."

"This is the way the government will now deal with these types of reports," the Jerusalem Post quoted their own government source as saying. That source said the military and Foreign Ministry may create a team that would go over the UN charges with a "fine-tooth comb."

Israel opted to cooperate with only one of the probes, that of the internal UN commission. Foreign Ministry Deputy Director for International Organizations Eviatar Manor met last week with the commissioner of the Human Rights committee in Geneva, where she said the unfinished report "had no basis in reality," and was authored by "Arab UN personnel." A similar reaction was published following the preliminary release of the internal UN report, which found Israeli culpability in the damage of UN property and asked for over 11 million US dollars in damages.

Only Hamas has agreed to cooperate into the commission led by Goldstone, a former war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In early June the Hamas-affiliated de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke with Goldstone and the two discussed claims of Israeli aggression toward Gazans and allegations of war crimes in the latest assault on Gaza, in addition to the ongoing siege.

Earlier this month Goldstone headed a panel in Geneva that heard from Israeli witnesses and victims of attacks on southern Israel, including from one women severely injured by a projectile fired from Gaza. Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin and a number of other Israeli residents and officials testified before the panel in Switzerland, where they were forced to travel due to Israel's refusal to cooperate with the probe.

"The refusal of cooperation will not in any way decrease the weight of our investigation," he said while in Gaza, adding that his commission would still probe Israel's opponents. He also said that Palestinians' attitudes toward the probe had been "admirable" and their cooperation would be noted in the report, including that of the Hamas-run government.

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