UNITED NATIONS ? The UN General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution urging Israel and the Palestinians to probe war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza nearly a year ago.
The vote, capping a two-day debate in the 192-member assembly on a controversial UN report that has accused both sides of war crimes during the 22-day conflict in the Gaza Strip, was 114 in favor and 18 against, with 44 abstentions. A simple majority was needed for adoption.
Israel, which had strenuously opposed the non-binding resolution and the UN report that it endorsed, voted against it as did its staunchest ally, the United States, along with Australia and a few European countries.
A majority of European Union countries, including Britain, France, Sweden and Spain, abstained after failing to secure amendments to the text, including one that would have dropped references to possible Security Council action if the report's findings are not implemented. Russia also abstained.
The text endorsed a UN report by a panel led by respected former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone that accused both Israel and the Palestinians of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the 22-day Gaza conflict that ended in January.
Goldstone, a South African Jew, recommended that Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas that rules Gaza face possible prosecution before the International Criminal Court in The Hague if they fail to conduct credible, independent investigations within six months.
The assembly resolution also called on both Israel and the Palestinian side to conduct, within a period of three months, investigations "that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards."
Ahead of the vote, Israel's deputy UN ambassador Daniel Carmon asked the sponsors to clarify exactly which entity is supposed to conduct the investigation on the Palestinian side: the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmud Abbas or "the terrorist entity" Hamas.
Explaining his country's "no" vote, US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff stressed that Washington "strongly supports accountability for human rights and humanitarian law violations in relation to the Gaza conflict."
"Our goal is to achieve genuine accountability in a way that respects internal processes and the ongoing efforts to restart permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," he added.
Yahya Mahmassani, the permanent observer of the 22-member Arab League, welcomed the adoption of the resolution as "a very good result."
"This is a victory for justice and accountability," he added, saying the Arab sponsors would consider their next step after hopefully receiving a report from UN chief Ban Ki-moon on implementation of the resolution.
A key finding of the Goldstone report was that Israel used disproportionate force in response to repeated rocket attacks by Gaza-based militants and failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians during its Gaza onslaught.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Israeli military offensive in the tiny coastal Palestinian enclave.
The Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Ryad Mansour, hailed the outcome of the vote.
He highlighted the fact that the resolution directs UN chief Ban Ki-moon to report back to the General Assembly on its implementation within three months with "a view to considering further action, if necessary, by the relevant UN organs and bodies, including by the Security Council."
"We will continue to knock on the door of the Security Council to [force it] to shoulder its responsibilities," Mansour added, insisting that "Israeli criminals who have committed crimes against Palestinian civilians get the punishment they deserve."
And he said the Palestinians were also preparing for implementation of a recommendation in the resolution urging Switzerland to convene a conference on enforcement of the Geneva Conventions in occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem.