GENEVA – The U.N. Human Rights Council will reopen the debate about alleged war crimes in Gaza later this week after Palestinians succeeded in gathering enough support to call a special meeting, officials said Tuesday.
The debate will start Thursday, a day after the U.N. Security Council in New York discusses the Goldstone report, which accuses Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during their Dec. 27-Jan. 18 war.
Israel has rejected the report, claiming the investigators led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone were biased against the Jewish state and misled by Palestinian propaganda.
U.N. officials say 18 of the council's 47 members signed a motion calling for the debate. The backers are: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Senegal.
Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Authority's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, said the two-day debate would examine the report as well as recent incidents of violence in Jerusalem.
It will be the sixth time that Israel has been the subject of a special session by the Geneva-based council. Each previous session has resulted in a resolution critical of Israel.
"We'll wait to take a stance on the debate itself once it begins," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "We still think that this report is very dangerous and is disconnected from reality. This report was based almost exclusively on Hamas propaganda."
The 575-page report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force and failed to protect civilians during its incursion into Gaza to root out Palestinian rocket squads.
The report also accused Palestinian armed groups of possible war crimes, including firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel. Hamas, the Palestinian Authority's main rival, controls Gaza.
Thirteen Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the conflict.
The decision to call for a special meeting of the council marks a turnaround for the Palestinians. Under heavy U.S. pressure, Palestinian diplomats two weeks ago had asked for debate on the report to be delayed until March, resulting in protests at home.
Despite angry Israeli reaction and U.S. criticism, the Goldstone report has been widely praised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and supported by countries in Europe and elsewhere.