PNA CALLS FOR MEETING ON GOLDSTONE – Palestinian anger forces U-turn

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The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has executed a U-turn over action on the Goldstone report on the Israeli war on Gaza last December 2008/January 2009.

The PNA asked the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday to hold a special meeting soon on the contentious UN report blasting the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, officials said.

Palestinian leaders had earlier agreed to the council delaying a vote on the report until March 2010, apparently under heavy pressure from the US and Israel.

The move sparked widespread condemnation from the democratically elected Hamas government, as well as Palestinian people and across the Arab world.

But, in a reversal, the Palestinian envoy to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, said his mission has begun consultations to schedule an extraordinary meeting of the council ‘as soon as possible’ to adopt the report and implement its recommendations.

The report, produced by an independent fact-finding mission headed by former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, accused both Israel and Palestinian armed groups of committing war crimes during the three-week war in Gaza that erupted on December 27, killing some 1,400 Palestinians (mainly civilians) and 13 Israelis (mainly soldiers).

The UN Security Council will discuss the report this week as part of a rescheduled debate on the Middle East, diplomats said last Wednesday.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on Thursday urged broad support at the UN Security Council debate, blasting Israel’s conduct during the Gaza conflict.

‘We are inviting all countries to come and intervene in the (October 14) session to stress the importance of endorsing the recommendations of such a report,’ he told reporters after conferring with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Last Wednesday, a divided Security Council agreed in closed-door consultations to bring forward the regular monthly debate on the Middle East from October 20 to this Wednesday at which the Goldstone report will be raised.

Libya, backed by Arab, Islamic and non-aligned countries, had lobbied for ‘an emergency meeting’ to focus exclusively on the report, which criticised Israel.

PNA foreign minister Malki said he would personally make the Palestinian case on the Goldstone panel’s recommendations during Wednesday’s security council debate.

‘It’s going to be an open debate but of course the emphasis will be on the Goldstone report,’ he told reporters.

Malki said the Palestinians also intend to take their case to the General Assembly and noted that to that end he met with Ali Triki, the president of the 192-member body.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which commissioned the Goldstone report, has postponed until March 2010 its vote on the report at the request of the Palestinian leadership.

But the controversial decision angered Hamas and many Palestinians, and weakened president Mahmud Abbas, according to observers.

In an about-turn, the Palestinian leadership is now pressing the Security Council and the General Assembly to ensure implementation of the Goldstone report recommendations.

The Palestinians are in particular insisting on one key recommendation in the report that calls on both Israel and the Palestinians to conduct investigations of alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by their respective sides through their own national legal systems within six months.

The Goldstone panel also asked the UN secretary general to bring its report to the attention of the UN Security Council for follow-up action, which could be a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Israel, backed by the United States, has rejected the UN report.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that Israel has 592 obstacles such as checkpoints, trenches and barriers across the occupied Palestinian West Bank and a report that Israel was removing 100 such curbs can not be verified.

In all, there are 69 permanently staffed checkpoints, 23 partial checkpoints and 500 unstaffed obstacles in the West Bank, the UN OCHA said.

This does not include the eight checkpoints on the Green Line between Israel and the Palestinian territory, it added.

The figure was down from a total of 618 registered in August, OCHA said.

In mid-September, the Israeli military announced that it was removing 100 obstacles in the West Bank, but OCHA said it could only confirm the removal of 35.

It said at least 22 obstacles were still in place.

And it was unable to locate another 43 with GPS coordinates provided by the military ‘either because there was no evidence of obstacles removed at the coordinates provided, or because the coordinates indicated a position outside the West Bank.’

It also said only 39 of the obstacles included in the list of 100 figured on OCHA’s database, ‘indicating that the significance of the remaining 61, in terms of access and movement, could be minimal.’

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank say any viable economic growth will depend on Israel lifting more of the curbs they say have stymied private sector investment in the Palestinian territory for almost a decade.

The Palestinian West Bank has been under illegal Israeli occupation since 1967.

Meanwhile, PNA foreign minister Malki has briefed UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on actions taken by Israelis recently against the al-Aqsa mosque.

He urged Ban Ki-Moon to intervene to prevent Israel from further escalating tension in occupied Jerusalem.

Malki told reporters that he had briefed Ban on ‘Israeli escalation measures against the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the actions the Israelis have been taking in recent days against the al-Aqsa mosque.’

He said he asked for Ban’s ‘immediate intervention to prevent Israel escalating the situation in Jerusalem.’

Last Friday, Israeli occupation forces clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians near occupied Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.

Eleven Israeli officers were injured and two Palestinians arrested, an Israeli spokesman said after the scuffles, which came as Palestinians staged a one-day strike in defence of the compound they see as threatened by extremist Jews.

Israeli occupation forces set up checkpoints around and within the occupied Old City and turned back Palestinians who do not live or work there, witnesses said.

However, they were allowing in tourists and Jews wanting to pray at the Western Wall below the mosque compound.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah party called the strike ‘to peacefully protest and to proclaim the attachment of the Palestinian people to their holy places and to Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the independent Palestinian state.’

Fatah accused Israeli forces of allowing right-wing Jewish extremists to enter the mosque compound while denying access to Muslims.

In the Gaza Strip, thousands of people on Friday took part in demonstrations called by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement.

‘The real al-Aqsa battle has started,’ said Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya.