GENEVA – Israel criticized the United Nations on Monday for allowing a lawmaker from the Palestinian group Hamas to visit the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva, on the day the global body was debating the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories.
Israel's envoy in Geneva said he wrote to U.N. officials urging them to deny Ismail al-Ashqar access to the U.N. because of Hamas' advocacy of violence against Israel.
"It's scandalous that he is allowed into the building," Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar told The Associated Press. "The honorable thing to do is to simply kick him out."
Al-Ashqar spoke at an event on the subject of Israel's arrest of Palestinian lawmakers that was hosted inside the U.N. building Monday morning by a Sudan-based human rights group. The event was held on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which was holding a simultaneous debate on human rights in the Palestinian territories to which al-Ashqar was not admitted.
At the meeting, attended by about 20 people, al-Ashqar condemned the arrest of Palestinian lawmakers as an abuse of their rights. Afterward, he left the U.N. compound and did not return, said a U.N. spokeswoman.
"Mr. al-Ashqar was invited by the Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development to speak at an event organized by the Foundation on the sides of the Human Rights Council session," said the spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian.
As a U.N.-accredited group, the Maarij Foundation can organize side events and invite speakers of its choice, she said.
The global body had assessed the possibility of security threats in connection with the event and allowed it to go ahead, she noted.
Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, Israel and others due to its attacks against civilian targets in Israel that have killed hundreds of people.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to link the Hamas visit to a deadly shooting at a French Jewish school, telling his Likud party faction that al-Ashqar represented "an organization that indiscriminately murders innocent men, women and children."
Outrage at the Hamas visit, which was also opposed by Hamas' main rival Fatah, overshadowed the Human Rights Council's regular debate on the situation in the Palestinian territories, which focused heavily on the impact of Israeli settlements.
In a speech to the council, the U.N.'s top human rights official urged Israel to do more to protect Palestinians and their property from violence by Israeli settlers.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also drew attention to what she called "excessive use of force by Israeli security forces."
"In the West Bank, Israeli forces carrying out law enforcement activities and operating checkpoints have killed unarmed Palestinian civilians," she said. "In Gaza, Israeli soldiers enforcing restricted areas on land and at sea have killed unarmed Palestinian civilians. These deaths were needless. Such incidents can be avoided if Israel ceases the use of live ammunition against civilians."
Members of Fatah, who represent the Palestinians as observers on the council, called Monday for a U.N. fact-finding mission to investigate Israeli settlements.
Pillay also criticized the Palestinians and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has been enforcing increasingly strict versions of Islamic code in the territory.
"There is also a need for Palestinian leaders to reinforce safeguards for freedoms of opinion, expression, association and assembly," she said.
Pillay said the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza was "illegal and unjustifiable."
"Those who participate in such activities are terrorizing Israeli civilians and playing into the hands of those who wish to maintain the blockade," she said.