Palestinian official: We erred over Gaza report

RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian leadership made a mistake by suspending action on a U.N. report on Gaza war crimes, a member of President Mahmoud Abbas' inner circle said Wednesday — the first such acknowledgment after days of protests in the West Bank and Gaza.

At issue is a 575-page U.N. report that alleged both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Israel's three-week offensive against the Islamic militants in Gaza last winter.

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the U.N. General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the council set the report aside for six months.

Abbas made the decision under heavy U.S. pressure, Palestinian and Israeli officials have said. U.S. officials told Palestinian leaders that a war crimes debate would complicate efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to participants in such meetings.

Abbas' aides have defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the U.N. report. They said deferring action did not mean burying the report.

But Abbas apparently underestimated the angry response at home. With every day, there were more protests, marches and statements of condemnations, not only from his Hamas rivals, but also from human rights groups and intellectuals.

On Wednesday, senior Abbas adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo told the Voice of Palestine radio that the Palestinian leadership had erred.

"What happened is a mistake, but it can be repaired," said Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. "We have the courage to admit there was a mistake."

In Gaza, public outrage at Abbas reached a new level on Wednesday, when hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president appeared in public areas around Gaza City. Abbas and Hamas have been bitter rivals since the Islamic group violently seized control of Gaza from pro-Abbas forces in June 2007.

The text on one poster under an Abbas photo read: "To the dumps of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas." Another had a big, black X over Abbas' face.

A crew dressed in civilian clothes was seen putting up the posters Wednesday morning, though it was not immediately clear who headed the campaign. The posters were signed "Intellectuals and university professors."

In an apparent attempt at damage control, Abbas' government is now backing a request by Libya to convene the U.N. Security Council for an emergency session on the report, written by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. Council members were to meet Wednesday to discuss the request.

Libya is the only Arab member on the 15-nation council, the U.N.'s most powerful body.

Whether the Libyans and Palestinians succeed remains to be seen.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, is expected to argue that the Security Council should not take up the document until the Human Rights Council considers it. The U.S., along with four other permanent members of the Security Council, can veto any resolution before the Council. Israeli officials declined comment on the council meeting.

The Goldstone report accused Israel of using disproportionate force and deliberately harmed civilians. It said Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately at civilians in southern Israel.

Rizek Abdel Jawad in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.