Volume. 12232

UN names panel to investigate war crimes in Gaza
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c_330_235_16777215_0___images_stories_edim_Gaza99(2).jpgThe United Nations late on Monday named experts to an international commission of inquiry into possible human rights violations and war crimes committed during Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Israel, however, dismissed the inquiry as a UN Human Rights Council "kangaroo court", Reuters reported. 
William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, will head the panel whose other members are Doudou Diene, a Senegalese veteran U.N. human rights expert.
A UN statement said Amal Alamuddin, a British-Lebanese lawyer engaged to be married to Hollywood actor George Clooney would take part though Alamuddin later denied she would participate in the inquiry.
"I am honored to have received the offer, but given existing commitments - including eight ongoing cases - unfortunately could not accept this role," she said in a statement.
It was not clear who would replace Alamuddin on the panel.
The UN statement said the independent team will investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law ... in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014."
A month of war, marked by Israeli air strikes on Gaza and rockets fired by Hamas militants into Israel, has killed 1,938 Palestinians and 67 Israelis while devastating wide tracts of densely populated Gaza.
The panel is to report by March 2015 to the UN Human Rights Council. Israel has long accused the 47-member state forum of bias against it.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillaysaid said on July 31 that she believed Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.
Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, Gaza's only power plant and UN premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions, said Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge.
In a statement, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor issued a statement dismissing the inquiry. He cited Israel's view that "the Human Rights Council had long ago turned into the 'terrorist rights council' and a kangaroo court, whose 'investigations' are pre-determined."
Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said "Hamas welcomes the decision to form an investigation committee into the war crimes committed by the occupation (Israel) against Gaza and it urges that it begin work as soon as possible."
Israel is still angry about a UN inquiry on the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli war against Gaza, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. That report said both Israel committed war crimes.
Israel and Washington said that report was distorted and biased against Israel.
Hamas pushes Abbas to join ICC
Meanwhile, Hamas has decided to demand that President Mahmoud Abbas sign the Rome Statute which will allow Palestine to join the International Criminal Court as a full member, even though the militant movement itself could be subject to prosecution, sources told the Middle East Eye.
Hamas's deputy chairman and chief negotiator in Cairo, Moussa Abu Marzouk has been instructed to sign the document supporting the State of Palestine as a member of the ICC in The Hague, the MEE has learned. The decision comes after a top level meeting between the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas.
The document already contains the signatures of the PLO executive committee, Fatah Central Committee and other PLO organizations such as the Popular Front and the Democratic Front. But Abbas himself is resisting, as a result of the forceful opposition of the United States and the European Union.
A tape in which Erekat criticized Abbas's refusal to join the ICC was leaked recently. In it, Erekat is alleged to have criticized Abbas for stalling on the question of the ICC. Since then, Erekat has been at the forefront of a campaign to force Abbas' hand. The PLO held a meeting recently in which all Palestinian factions put their name to joining the ICC.
Until now, Abbas has resisted pressure to sign the Rome Statute of 2002, the treaty that established the ICC, arguing that to do so would be to expose Palestinian militant groups to prosecution in the international court.
The Hamas decision has obliterated this line of defense, informed sources told the MEE. A source said the movement decided it would not allow itself to be used as an obstacle to a prosecution against Israel for war crimes. Secondly, the source said, Hamas is confident it would be able to rebut a prosecution of war crimes in the ICC.
The source told the MEE that Hamas took extensive legal advice, including from senior British legal counsel, about its own vulnerability to a charge of war crimes. The decision to sign the document took place in the last two days. He said that ending Israel's impunity was now paramount to the Palestinian cause and this decision was further proof of the unity being displayed by all Palestinian organizations in the wake of Israel's continued bombing of Gaza.
The EU is trying to pre-empt the move by claiming that Palestinian membership of the ICC would threaten a conference of donor nations to rebuild Gaza, due on 1 September.
Truce talks make no progress: officials
Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo to broker an end to the Israeli assault on Gaza have so far made no progress, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday.
"The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations," he told AFP.
His remarks came as the Egyptian-mediated talks entered their second day and a 72-hour truce held on the ground, bringing relief to Gaza's 1.8 million population who suffered more than a month of relentless bombardment.
Late on Monday, a Palestinian official in Cairo told AFP that the first day of talks had lasted nearly 10 hours.
"The negotiations were serious," he said, adding that the Israelis were insisting on the demilitarization of Hamas, but that the Palestinians had refused it.
"(Tuesday's) meeting should be the most important," he said, indicating the talks were expected to tackle core issues such as the eight-year-old Israeli siege of the territory.
Few details have emerged from the negotiations where a Palestinian delegation, comprising senior officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is pushing for a removal of the blockade.

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