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Netanyahu: UN rights body legitimizes 'terror groups'

Aug. 13, 2014 9:47 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2014 6:53 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out Wednesday at the UN Human Rights Council, accusing it of granting "legitimacy to terror organizations" by investigating Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza.

"UNHRC gives legitimacy to murderous terror organizations like Hamas and Daash (Islamic State)," he said, accusing the rights body of overlooking "massacres" committed elsewhere in the Middle East in favor of investigating Israel for defending itself against rocket attacks from Gaza.

In response to Netanyahu's comments, a spokesman for the 47-member rights council said the inquiry it launched last month will probe both sides in the Gaza conflict, which killed more than 1,950 Palestinians -- the vast majority of whom were civilians -- as well as 67 in Israel, 95 percent of whom were soldiers.

"The resolution establishing the Commission of Inquiry clearly states the commission will investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law since the current military operations began in mid-June," Rolando Gomez told AFP.

"This directly implies that both parties will be subjected to a thorough investigation."

Netanyahu spoke just days after the rights council named Canadian international law expert William Schabas to run the inquiry, in a move which sparked fury in Israel, with officials denouncing him as biased.

"Instead of investigating Hamas attacks on Israeli citizens and its use of Gazans as human shields, instead of probing the massacre (President Bashar al-)Assad is perpetrating against the people in Syria or that Daash is carrying out among the Kurds, the UN decided to come and investigate Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East ... that is acting legitimately to defend its citizens against murderous terror," he said.

"First let them carry out an investigation in Damascus, in Baghdad, in Tripoli, let them go and see Daash and the Syrian army and Hamas. It is there, not here, that they will find war crimes," Netanyahu said.

The right council's commission is due to publish its findings in March 2015.

The Israeli leader accused Schabas of having "already decided" that Hamas was not guilty of anything and that there was "nothing to investigate there."

In a series of interview with the Israeli media, Schabas on Tuesday defended himself against allegations of bias.

Asked by Channel 2 television if he would describe Hamas as a "terror organization," Schabas said it would be "inappropriate" to answer such a question, and urged Israel to participate in the inquiry.

"It is important for Israel to cooperate because the allegations have a great deal to do with the use of force, the targeting, and the proportionality of that targeting, the identification of military objectives," he said, noting that Israel had described its use of force as "proportionate."

Israel has long had stormy relations with the UNHRC, which it accuses of having a built-in bias against Israel.

In January 2012, it became the first country to refuse to attend a periodic review of its human rights record. And two months later, it cut all ties with the council over its plans to probe how Jewish settlements were harming Palestinian rights.

In a separate development, Israel's state comptroller on Wednesday ordered an inquiry into the Gaza offensive, a spokesman said.

Media reports said the investigation would consider the operation in view of both Israeli and international law.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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