Head of U.N. inquiry into Gaza conflict quits over Israeli bias claim

The head of a U.N. inquiry into last summer's conflict between Israel and Gaza said he would resign after Israeli allegations of bias due to consultancy work he did for the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Head of U.N. inquiry into Gaza conflict quits over Israeli bias claim
World Bulletin / News Desk 

 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.

The Israeli premier went so far as to slam the rights council as "an anti-Israel body, the decisions of which prove it has nothing to do with human rights."

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

Canadian academic William Schabas was appointed last August by the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead a three-member group looking into alleged war crimes during Israel's military offensive in Gaza.

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 U.N. investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities in the Palestinian territories.

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

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

Israel had long criticized Schabas' appointment, citing his record as a strong critic of the Jewish state and its current political leadership. 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 U.N. 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 appointment of Schabas, who lives in Britain and teaches international law at Middlesex University, was welcomed at the time by Hamas but was harshly criticised by Jewish 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".

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 last July and August.

Israel had said that the UN council would not be objective.

The Israeli offensive left more than 2,160 Palestinians dead and some 11,000 injured – the vast majority of them civilians – while partially or completely destroying thousands of residential structures across the territory.

The onslaught, which was launched with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave, finally ended with the announcement last August of an open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for his part, hailed Schabas' resignation, saying it was a "victory" for the self-proclaimed Jewish 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."

Last Mod: 03 Şubat 2015, 13:38
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