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GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS DEBATE ON UN RIGHTS PROBE INTO GAZA CONFLICT New York, Nov 4 2009 6:05PM The General Assembly today began its debate on the report of the United Nations probe which found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations during the Gaza conflict earlier this year.

The report is the result of a three-month investigation, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, a former prosecutor at the UN war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

The four-member team found evidence that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants committed serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law, which may amount to crimes against humanity, during the conflict in December 2008 and January 2009.

The report calls for a number of measures, including its referral to the Security Council, since neither the Government of Israel nor the responsible Palestinian authorities have so far carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations.

In addition to the debate, the Assembly is considering a draft resolution, tabled by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of Arab States, by which it would endorse the report, and request the Secretary-General to transmit it to the Security Council.

The Assembly would also call for independent investigations by both the Israelis and the Palestinians within three months.

“What the Goldstone report essentially constitutes is another damning record of the Israeli crimes committed against our people under occupation,” the Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour, told the Assembly, adding that its recommendations represent a significant contribution to the pursuit of accountability and justice.

He called on Member States to support the draft resolution, which was an important step to end impunity and the absence of justice that obstructed peace efforts and prolonged the suffering of civilians.

Ambassador Gabriela Shalev of Israel said that the fact-finding mission, with a “one-sided mandate,” was a politicized body set up to reach pre-determined conclusions. “It is the product of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a body whose obsession with Israel had led it to pass more resolutions against Israel than on all other UN Member States put together.

“It makes explosive charges against Israel – yet the evidence provided to support such accusations is at best uncorroborated, and at worst false,” she stated.

Opening the meeting, which was slated to hear from more than 40 speakers, Assembly President Ali Treki said that despite the political sensitivities associated with the report, the question before the Assembly was simple.

“We have to answer whether the respect of human rights is universal or not? Whether we should be divided on human rights issues or should we remain united behind advocating their respect all over the world?

“Let us be clear on what is at stake here: the human rights of nearly 2 million civilians,” said Mr. Treki, adding that “without justice there can be no progress towards peace.”