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Israel/Gaza - Goldstone Report

Netanyahu rules out war crimes prosecutions of Israeli soldiers

Article published on the 2009-10-13 Latest update 2009-10-13 08:53 TU

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu(Photo: Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(Photo: Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday never to allow any Israeli soldiers to stand trial on war crimes charges for their actions during last year’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In a keynote address to parliament, Netanyahu denounced the UN Goldstone Report, which accused Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters of war crimes and raised the possibility of international criminal prosecutions.

"This distorted report, written by this distorted committee, undermines Israel's right to defend itself,” Netanyahu said in his address at the opening of parliament's winter session. "Israel will not take risks for peace if it can't defend itself."

“This report encourages terrorism and threatens peace," he added.

Israel justified its offensive in the Gaza strip in December by saying it was the only way to stop Hamas being fired into Israeli territory.

"The right to a Jewish state and the right to self-defence are two of the existential rights of our people," Netanyahu said to the Knesset. "These basic rights of the Jewish people have been under greatly increasing attack... Our prime mission is to stave off this attack."

Most Israeli officials have condemned the Goldstone report, saying their country had little choice but to take harsh action against militant fighters who were terrorizing southern Israel. They also blame Hamas for civilian casualties, saying the group took cover in residential areas during the fighting.

However, the strong credentials of the report’s author, Richard Goldstone, a respected South African jurist, along with his Jewish faith and his past support for Israeli causes have made it hard for Israel to dismiss the claims.

More than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during Operation Cast Lead. Hamas rockets killed 17 people in 2008, including nine civilians and eight soldiers, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

While Netanyahu has repeatedly lashed out at the UN report, Monday's comments appeared to be a direct response to a new Palestinian push for a vote on the report in the UN Human Rights Council.

If the vote takes place, the matter could be referred to higher UN bodies, which could push for war crimes prosecutions.

Earlier this month, Mahmoud Abbas' government in the West Bank had agreed to delay the vote for six months. That decision, which came under heavy US pressure, sparked sharp criticism and protests, particularly from the rival Hamas government in Gaza.