Head of UN committee investigating alleged Israeli war crimes resigns after accusations of bias

William Schabas said he had become the 'huge target of malicious attacks'

The head of a committee appointed to investigate last summer's conflict between Israel and Gaza has resigned in wake of Israeli allegations of bias.

William Schabas, a professor of international law at London’s Middlesex University, said he had become the “huge target of malicious attacks” after it emerged that he undertook consultancy work for the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 2012.

Mr Schabas, a Canadian academic, was appointed last August by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to lead a committee investigating alleged war crimes during the 50-day war, which claimed more than 2,000 Palestinian lives.

But his resignation was announced last night after his work for the PLO prompted the Human Rights Council to seek legal advice about his position.  “I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed," Mr Schabas wrote to the committee.

He said the 2012  piece for the PLO – for which he charged £865 -  was no different to the work produced for many other governments and organisations. "My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public," the letter said. "This work in defence of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks."

The timing of the resignation is particularly crucial as the inquiry had completed gathering evidence with the writing underway and the scheduled for publication next month. It is not yet clear how the timetable will be effected in wake of his departure.

It comes at a key time for both sides. Israel is facing pressure on multiple fronts over the recent war, with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, threatening to refer Israel to the international criminal court for war crimes.

At the time of his appointment, Mr Schabas said he was determined to put aside any views about "things that have gone on in the past". The inquiry intended to investigate the behaviour of both the Israelis and of Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza and calls for the destruction of Israel.

But his appointment provoked fury inside Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that the report, in effect “had already been written”. Israel reportedly denied the inquiry panel’s members entry in November, when they asked to travel through Israel to the Gaza Strip, while the Israeli Defence Force announced that its own alternative committee, headed by Major General Noam Tibon, would investigate dozens of "exceptional cases" of civilians being killed or harmed.