Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Friday met a difficult deadline by giving UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reports on their own versions of the brief Gaza Strip war last winter, dpa reported.
Ban has until next Friday to assess the dramatic events of last year, which South African Judge Richard Goldstone branded as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides in a report last year. His report said the Israel-Hamas conflict killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Ban was asked by the UN General Assembly to seek information from the two warring sides and write his own report. But the 192-nation assembly also asked that the Israelis and Palestinians provide their own "credible" reports that meet international standards.
"This morning we handed the UN a report of the investigations and operations that took place during Operation Cast Lead," Defence Minister
Ehud Barak told reporters during a tree-planting ceremony in the southern Israeli Negev desert.
"All of the soldiers and officers whom we sent to battle need to know that the State of Israel stands behind them even on the day after," Barak said.
As expected, the Israeli report denounced the Goldstone report as "distorted, false and irresponsible."
In New York, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour said the preliminary report given to Ban detailed the process of an independent investigation on the Gaza fighting.
The PA has launched an independent investigation, while Israel has not, he said. Israel's 52-page report to Ban came from a military investigation and not by an independent commission, even though the Israeli government said it may consider such a possibility.
Mansour called the investigation is "a tedious process. But the train has left the station and it is heading in the right direction." He declined to provide details of the Palestinian report, saying it was confidential and Ban could chose whether to make it public.
The Goldstone report said his four-member team found "strong evidence" that both Israel and the radical Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza committed war crimes during the three-week fighting last year.
The UN General Assembly in a November 5 resolution endorsed the Goldstone report and gave Israel and the Palestinians three months to undertake "independent, credible investigations" into the allegations against them. That deadline expires Friday next week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could announce a compromise early next week, under which he would form a commission headed by a senior jurist, such as former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who would be acceptable to the international law community, reported the daily Yediot Ahronot, quoting government officials.
Mark Regev, would neither deny nor confirm the report.
The Israeli defence minister and army chief of staff opposed a commission that would expose private soldiers to legal prosecution, because they fear that would compromise combat in the future.
According to the officials quoted in Yediot, only higher-ranking officers with the rank of brigadier-general and up, as well as political leaders including former premier Ehud Olmert, would have to appear before the commission being considered by Netanyahu.
The PA preliminary report informed Ban that the Palestinian side under the direction of President Mahmoud Abbas formed an independent commission of investigation "a few days ago." The commission is headed by highly qualified experts who plan to conduct the probe in "all occupied territories," Mansour said.
Asked whether the Palestinian report represented also the position of Hamas, which controls Gaza and fought the Israeli Defence Forces, Mansour said the report provided a plan of action of the independent commission, its programme of investigation and the individuals who will assist it. The plan of action is included in an annex attached to the main letter to Ban.
Mansour said the documents provided to Ban included also a separate investigation made by the Arab League on the Gaza conflict.
"We did not send to them secrets," Mansour said. "We sent to them exactly what we thought we were supposed to do. We did it out of respect for those who requested the report. It is our duty as professionals."
Mansour said the Arab League and Goldstone reports came "to similar conclusions" that Israel violated international humanitarian law, but also "indicated violations by the Palestinian side."
"We reflected that in the letter to the secretary general that there was no symmetry between the occupying power, Israel, and their criminal actions, including war crimes against our people," Mansour said.
"Any acts that may have been committed by the Palestinian side were those who lived under occupation," he said in defence of Palestinian Hamas militants but without referring to Hamas by name.