The co-authors of a scathing U.N. report on Israel's conduct during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza said Thursday they stand by their work, hitting back at critics who've pushed to have its findings withdrawn after the report's lead author, Richard Goldstone, aired doubts about one of its central conclusions.
In a statement published on the website of Britain's Guardian newspaper, Goldstone's three colleagues said there was "no justification" for any move to review or rescind the 575-page report _ which among other things accuses Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in its campaign against Hamas militants. The report also condemned Hamas for targeting Israeli civilians by firing rockets at Israeli cities.
"Nothing of substance has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions of that report with respect to any of the parties to the Gaza conflict," they said in the statement. "We firmly stand by these conclusions."
The Goldstone report has been the object of fierce controversy since its inception, and the Israeli government energetically rejected conclusions that it may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the battle in Gaza. The United States has also rejected the report, calling it flawed and one-sided.
But in a surprise move that heartened critics of the report, Goldstone took to the editorial pages of the Washington Post on April 1 to cast doubt on one of its most damning allegations: that Israel deliberately targeted civilians as its forces tore through the tiny coastal strip.
Subsequent Israeli investigations, he said, "indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy," adding that, "if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
Israelis seized upon the admission to argue that the report was fatally compromised and should be officially withdrawn _ even though Goldstone himself later said that he saw no reason to revoke the document.
Thursday's statement from Goldstone's colleagues _ Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, former Irish peacekeeper Desmond Travers, and international law professor Christine Chinkin _ was even more categorical, suggesting that Goldstone had split with his co-authors by writing in the Post.
Jilani confirmed to The Associated Press that she and her colleagues disagreed with Goldstone's latest assessment, saying in a telephone interview that she could not see "anything of substance now in the public domain that merits a rethinking on the findings of the report."
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the Israeli position about the Goldstone document remains the same.
"The whole process was deeply tainted by political bias and an extremist dominance over the U.N. Human Rights Commission by nondemocratic countries," he said, adding that the Israelis are still studying the "implications" of Goldstone's newspaper article.
"We will try to take whatever steps are possible in order to minimize the unjust damage caused by the original report," he said.
The Goldstone report was submitted to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in September 2009. It was then endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly in New York, which warned of possible "further action" by U.N. bodies, including the Security Council, if both sides didn't conduct independent and credible investigations.
Hamas, an anti-Israel militant group backed by Iran, seized control of Gaza in 2007 after a brief civil war against the rival Fatah movement.
Israel attacked Gaza in December 2008 in response to years of rocket fire from Hamas. During a three-week offensive, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died during the fighting.
The Goldstone Report accused Israel, among other things, of deliberately targeting civilians and using disproportionate force. Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian casualties, saying militants used residential neighborhoods, schools and mosques for cover to carry out attacks.
The Israeli military says it has investigated some 200 reports of wrongdoing by its troops, and referred 50 cases to prosecutors. There have been three indictments, two of which led to convictions and one that is still being tried.
John Heilprin contributed from Geneva.