Judge Goldstone admits Gaza war report flawed

Judge Richard Goldstone

Judge Richard Goldstone

Israeli politicians have called for the "immediate cancellation" of a UN report accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza after its Jewish author retracted his "libel".

In an article in the Washington Post newspaper, Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who led the probe into Operation Cast Lead, said that with the benefit of hindsight "the Goldstone Report would have been a different document".

The document, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), sparked international controversy and protests against Mr Goldstone when it was published in September 2009.

It found both Israel and Hamas guilty of war crimes during the fighting and accused Israel of using disproportionate force. It was described as a "blood libel" against Israel by President Shimon Peres.

But in his comment piece Mr Goldstone admitted that the HRC's mandate had from the outset been "skewed against Israel".

He reversed his claims on several key facts, stating that he had been wrong to conclude that Israel deliberately targeted civilians.

Citing new findings about Israel's conduct during the conflict, he said: "I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes".

He also noted the more than 400 investigations carried out by Israel since the report was released, compared with the fact Hamas had not carried out any credible probes.

Mr Goldstone also expressed regret that the inquiry had not meant "a new era of evenhandedness at the UN HRC, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that he would create a committee of senior officials "to minimise, in even the smallest way, the great damage this smear campaign has caused the state of Israel."

Mr Netanyahu said: "There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happened in the case of the Goldstone report.

"This leads us to call for the immediate cancellation of the Goldstone report."

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Mr Goldstone's comments were "too little and too late" and called for efforts "to correct the international rules, norms and laws" so that countries could "fight against terrorists even if terrorists were acting from within heavily condensed civilian populations".

A spokesman for Hamas called Mr Goldstone's admissions "reprehensible."

Last updated: 9:04am, April 4 2011