Top UN Rights Body to Probe Israel’s Gaza Shelling

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations top human rights body on Wednesday condemned "gross and systematic" human rights violations by Israel in Gaza and sent a mission to probe the killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by Israeli artillery.

The 47-state Human Rights Council, meeting in special session, approved a resolution brought by Arab and Muslim states that demanded urgent international action to end Israel’s repeated military incursions into Palestinian territory.

The President of the Council, Mexican ambassador Alfonso de Alba, was asked to name a high-level team to travel to the Gaza village of Beit Hanoun, scene of last week’s shelling, and report back by mid-December.

"The Human Rights Council expresses its alarm at the gross and systematic violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territory," said the resolution, which was backed by 32 votes to 6 with 8 abstentions.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, said that while Israel regretted the civilian deaths in Beit Hanoun, the blame for the incident lay with the Palestinian authorities for not stopping the village being used to launch rockets into Israel.

A 58-year-old Israeli woman was killed on Wednesday by a rocket fired from Gaza. It was the first such lethal attack since July 2005.

The United States, which is not a member of the Council, called the resolution a "blatant attempt" to exploit the "tragic" Beit Hanoun shelling in order to give an unbalanced view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It was the third special session held by the Human Rights Council since it came into being in June. All three sessions have been devoted to Israel.

The Council replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission as part of a plan for U.N. reform, but some rights activists are concerned that it is already falling prone to the political confrontation that hobbled its predecessor.

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