UN divided over Gaza ‘war crimes’ report

Israel has created a rift in the higher echelons of the United Nations over the investigation of alleged “war crimes” in the Gaza operation.

Israeli diplomats, backed by President Shimon Peres and American diplomats at the United Nations, have persuaded the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon not to investigate further the allegations of illegal actions carried out by the Israeli army during Operation Cast Lead. But Mr Ki-moon is under intense pressure from many in his own organisation to announce a new investigation.

In a report this week commissioned by Mr Ki-moon himself, a team of UN investigators accused Israel of deliberately firing on UN personnel and buildings, causing a number of deaths. The report, compiled by Ian Martin, the former head of Amnesty, was prepared in cooperation with the Israeli Army, which gave access to aerial photographs and the minutes of operational debriefings.

Despite this, Israeli sources accused the investigators of writing a “totally one-sided report, which only took in the Hamas viewpoint and disregarded the fact that in all the cases, we were responding to Palestinian fire, we gave repeated warnings of our attacks and the soldiers had orders not to harm known UN installations”.

Despite the severity of the report, Mr Ki-moon announced that he would not be taking any further action, despite the recommendation in the report for further investigations.

He commended the cooperation of the Israeli government and noted that Israel was responding to “continued and indiscriminate” attacks from Hamas. Israeli officials refused to speak on record about their discussions with the Secretary General, but sources described him as “accessible and reasonable and willing to hear our arguments”.

President Peres, who visited the United States this week, has also been involved in the unofficial discussions with Mr Ki-moon, as have members of the Obama administration who support a greater engagement with the UN than the Bush government.

“In our relations with the UN,” said an Israeli diplomat, “the current problem is not the Secretary General, but the hierarchy beneath him, who are still fundamentally hostile to Israel.”

Last updated: 10:00am, May 7 2009