October 8, 2009 / 12:00 AM / 8 years ago

U.N. council compromises over Gaza report debate

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council brought forward on Wednesday a scheduled meeting on the Middle East after Libya demanded it urgently debate a U.N. report on the Gaza war that has angered Israel.

Diplomats said the council's monthly discussion of the Middle East, originally slated for October 20, would now be held on October 14, in a compromise with Libya -- currently a council member -- and its Arab allies including the Palestinians.

An investigation ordered by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council and led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone found that both the Israeli armed forces and Hamas militants committed war crimes in the December-January war. But the report, issued last month, was more critical of Israel.

The Human Rights Council had been due to vote on Friday on a resolution that would have condemned Israel's failure to cooperate with the inquiry and forwarded the report to the Security Council.

But action was postponed until March after U.S. pressure aimed at getting the peace process back on track. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has come under sharp criticism at home for agreeing to the delay.

Wednesday's decision allows the Arabs to show they have raised the report in an open council debate and Western states to avoid a special meeting devoted to Goldstone.

Libya initially proposed such a meeting for Friday, Western diplomats said, whereas the October 14 debate would be a routine affair at which any Middle East matter could be discussed.

The United States, which agrees with Israel that Goldstone's mandate was slanted against the Jewish state, has been anxious to prevent the report becoming a Security Council agenda item in its own right.

Speaking after two hours of closed-door council procedural discussions, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff made clear Washington would not favour any council action resulting from the October 14 debate.

"The report needs to be discussed by the Human Rights Council, and decisions on what next steps and what is the appropriate disposition of this report are decisions that will be taken in Geneva," Wolff told reporters.

The report itself recommends that both Israel and the Gaza authorities investigate the war crimes allegations and that if they do not do so in six months the Security Council should refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Libyan Ambassador Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam said he was not seeking to involve the ICC. "What we want is an open discussion, so that the people and the politicians should be aware about the importance of this report," he said.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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