Abbas admits error over Gaza report

UN should take action, official says

Demonstrators in Gaza threw shoes at a poster of Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, protesting the Palestinian president’s request that the UN suspend action on a report detailing war crimes. Demonstrators in Gaza threw shoes at a poster of Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, protesting the Palestinian president’s request that the UN suspend action on a report detailing war crimes. (Hatem Moussa/ Associated Press)
By Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press / October 8, 2009

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RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian leadership made a mistake by suspending action on a UN report on Gaza war crimes, a member of President Mahmoud Abbas’s inner circle said yesterday - the first such acknowledgment after days of protests in the West Bank and Gaza.

In Gaza, a group of university professors hurled shoes at an Abbas poster in a particularly harsh show of contempt.

At issue is a 575-page UN report that alleged both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Israel’s offensive against the Islamic militants in Gaza last winter.

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the Human Rights Council set the report aside for six months.

Abbas made the decision under heavy US pressure, Palestinian and Israeli officials have said. US officials told Palestinian leaders that a war crimes debate would complicate efforts to restart peace talks, according to participants in such meetings.

Abbas defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the report. Aides said deferring action did not mean burying the report.

But Abbas apparently underestimated the angry response at home. With every day, there were more protests, marches, and statements of condemnation from human rights groups and intellectuals, as well as from his Hamas rivals, who have rejected the war crimes charges leveled against themselves but want them pursued against Israel.

Yesterday, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior adviser to Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio that the Palestinian leadership had erred.

“What happened is a mistake, but [it] can be repaired,’’ said Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “We have the courage to admit there was a mistake.’’

In Gaza, hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president were plastered on walls yesterday. Abbas and Hamas have been bitter rivals since the Islamic group violently seized control of Gaza from pro-Abbas forces in June 2007.

One poster showed a photo of Abbas with a black X across his face and the words: “To the trash heap of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas.’’

A crew dressed in civilian clothes was seen putting up the posters yesterday morning. The posters were signed “university professors and intellectuals.’’

Later, about 30 professors and protesters concluded a press conference condemning Abbas by hurling shoes at a large version of the poster. Throwing a shoe at someone is considered a severe insult in Arab culture.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, Abbas’s government backed a request by Libya to convene the UN Security Council for an emergency session on the report.

Libya is the only Arab member on the 15-nation council, the UN’s most powerful body. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, said the Palestinians, Arab nations, and the 118-nation Nonaligned Movement of mainly developing countries strongly supported the Libyan initiative.

Meeting behind closed doors yesterday, the council agreed to advance its monthly meeting on the Middle East to Oct 14 and focus on the war crimes report, written by legal experts and chaired by Richard Goldstone, an eminent South African jurist. The meeting was originally scheduled for Oct. 20.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has said the report is unfair to Israel and is expected to argue that the Security Council should not take up the document until the Human Rights Council considers it. The United States, along with four other permanent members of the Security Council, can veto any resolution before the council.

The Goldstone report accuses Israel of using disproportionate force and intentionally harming civilians and says Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately at civilians in southern Israel.

Both Israel and Hamas have denied they committed war crimes.