Official: Goldstone invited to visit Israel

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 7:09 AM
Official: Goldstone invited to visit Israel

South African jurist Richard Goldstone has accepted an invitation to visit Israel and promised to work to nullify his U.N. report accusing Israel of deliberately targeted civilians during its offensive in the Gaza Strip two years ago, the interior minister said Tuesday.

The Israeli invitation follows Goldstone's recent comments in a newspaper article that he no longer believes that Israel intentionally fired at civilians. Israel had shunned the internationally respected jurist, who is Jewish and has strong connections to the country, since his report was issued in 2009.

The report was commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which ordered the investigation into the actions of both Israel and the Hamas militant group during their three-week war in 2008-2009. The commission has said it stands by the report, and Goldstone would need to submit a formal request to change it.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Israel's Army Radio station that he phoned Goldstone Monday to express his appreciation for Goldstone's "courageous" reconsideration of his charges, and to invite him to tour Israel's southern communities that have sustained years of Palestinian rocket fire.

Yishai said Goldstone "as a Jew understands well the story of the Jewish people's suffering ... and it is very important for him to come and see this."

Goldstone turned down an interview request from The Associated Press.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said Goldstone told the paper Monday he would visit Israel in early July as a guest of the interior minister.

The minister added that Goldstone promised him he would take additional steps to retract his U.N. report.

Also speaking on Army Radio, Danny Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who also participated in the phone call, quoted Goldstone as saying he was ready to take steps to change the status of the report, but first wanted to "wait for the dust to settle" following his op-ed article in Friday's Washington Post.

The Goldstone report concluded that both Israel and Hamas committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during three weeks of fighting. The findings triggered outrage in Israel and a personal campaign against Goldstone.

In Friday's article, Goldstone said new information had come to light that made him rethink his central conclusions.

He lauded Israel for conducting dozens of investigations into alleged wrongdoing. In particular, he cited evidence that a deadly strike that killed more than 20 members of a Palestinian family resulted from faulty intelligence and was not an intentional attack.

Israeli leaders have called for the report to be retracted.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council has said it will continue to treat the report as a legitimate working document. Spokesman Cedric Sapey told The Associated Press on Monday that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request for the report to be withdrawn.

Last month, a majority of the council's 47 members voted to pass the report up to the General Assembly, recommending the powerful U.N. Security Council be asked to submit it to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

Such a move is unlikely to pass the Security Council, where Israel's strongest ally, the United States, has veto power. But the mere suggestion of bringing war crimes charges has infuriated Israel.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner welcomed Goldstone's about-face.

"We've made clear from when the Goldstone Report was initially presented and maintained ever since that we didn't see any evidence that the Israeli government had intentionally targeted civilians or otherwise engaged in any war crimes; and now that we see that Justice Goldstone has reached the same conclusion," Toner said Monday.

"I can say that we remain concerned and we'll continue working to an end to the what we believe is an anti-Israel bias in the Human Rights Council," Toner said.

Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in response to years of persistent rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israel.

Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed during the campaign.

Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian toll, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.