Defiant UN backs Israel war crimes report

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The Independent Online

Britain and France today failed in an attempt to delay a crunch Middle East vote at the UN, amid warnings by Israel that it could derail the peace process.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted by 25 to six to refer a controversial report accusing Israel of war crimes during the Gaza offensive in January to the Security Council.

Eleven countries formally abstained, however Britain and France did not even take part, having unsuccessfully argued for more time to reach an agreed resolution.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We did not participate in the vote. We were involved in discussions with Israel and the Palestinians about potentially substantive improvements in the situation on the ground and have therefore asked for a delay to the vote."

Earlier, Gordon Brown held fresh discussions with Israeli counterpart Binyamin Netanyahu after the two men had reportedly clashed over the report by Judge Richard Goldstone earlier in the week.

Mr Netanyahu was said to have been furious after Britain and other European countries warned they would abstain in today's vote.

In what were reported to be "robust exchanges" over the telephone, Mr Brown was said to have told the Israeli leader that his country needed to hold an independent inquiry into the Gaza offensive if it was to escape censure.

Downing Street would not comment on the earlier conversation, which took place on Wednesday, but the Prime Minister's spokesman said they had spoken again this morning ahead of the Geneva vote.

"I think the fact that there have been discussions this morning is the important point," the spokesman said.

"The Prime Minister's priority throughout these negotiations has been to move the peace process forward."

As well as urging the Israelis to establish an independent inquiry into the loss of civilian life in Gaza, Britain has been pressing for a reopening of the Gaza crossing and a freeze on settlement building.