RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced growing outrage at home Sunday over his decision to withdraw support for a U.N. report that alleged Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in last winter’s Gaza war.
Abbas’ reversal came as a result of intense U.S. pressure, Palestinian officials said. The report by respected justice Richard Goldstone will now lie dormant for at least six months rather than be sent to the U.N. General Assembly with possible recommendations for action.
Israel, which vehemently denies the war crimes allegations, has warned that dealing with the Goldstone report now would derail peace efforts. The Obama administration is pushing hard to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and a senior U.S. envoy is returning to the region in coming days to try to narrow gaps over the terms of such talks.
Israel launched the three-week war to quash militant rocket barrages from Gaza that had terrorized residents of southern Israel for years. The U.N. report accused Israel of using disproportionate force and targeting civilian areas. It faulted Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli towns and using civilians as human shields. Both sides have denied committing war crimes.
The Palestinian decision to suspend the campaign for war crimes prosecutions was first reported late Thursday as the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva was considering a vote on the Goldstone report. With the Palestinians out of the picture, Arab and Muslim supporters followed suit, and the vote was deferred to March.
Since then, anger in the Abbas-run West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has been building.
Leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization met late Saturday and demanded action.
Planning Minister Ali Jarbawi said he would seek an explanation at a Cabinet meeting on Monday. “We want to know exactly what happened. The government decided to go ahead with Goldstone report until the end, but someone made a mistake,” he said. “There was a wrong decision, and this is terribly bad.”
For now, it’s unlikely members of the PLO and his Fatah movement would go after Abbas, who was in Jordan on Sunday as part of a tour of Arab countries. The angry words appeared to be aimed at damage control at home. Abbas’ critics are more likely to seek the dismissal of Abbas advisers seen as encouraging him to take the decision.
Abbas aides have defended the decision, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the Goldstone report.
But on Sunday, Abbas’ spokesman said the Palestinian economics minister, Bassem Khouri, had resigned. It was unclear whether the resignation was to protest Abbas’ decision, and Khouri declined comment.
In a rare sign of public criticism, a prominent Palestinian commentator, Zakaria Mohammed said Abbas was clearly to blame. “People are furious at him and his decision,” he wrote on the independent “Faisal” Web site.
In the Gaza Strip, demonstrators and human rights groups expressed their condemnation Saturday.
In Gaza City, hundreds of high school and university students from the Hamas-aligned Islamic bloc skipped classes to march through town, while Gazans injured during the war — some missing limbs or using wheelchairs — organized their own news conference.
“We consider this act a great betrayal of the blood of our martyred and injured children and the thousands of families that lack a refuge to protect them from the summer’s heat and the winter’s cold,” they said.
A dozen Palestinian human rights organizations, many of whom provided reports to Goldstone and considered the report a vindication of their efforts, expressed their disappointment.
“There is a feeling of outrage and frustration about the Palestinian leadership’s position,” said Hamdi Shaqqura of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
In other friction between Israel and the Palestinians, Palestinian protesters hurled rocks and bottles at Israeli police in Jerusalem after being barred from one of the city’s holiest shrines.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said about 150 demonstrators had gathered near the disputed hilltop compound known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount.
Police had sealed off the area, sacred to Jews as the site of the two biblical Jewish temples and to Muslims as home of the al-Aqsa mosque, after Palestinians rioted there last week.
Officers pushed the crowd to a nearby Arab east Jerusalem neighborhood, where the scuffling continued briefly. Three Palestinians were detained for throwing rocks at officers and an Israeli Arab leader was detained on suspicion he incited rioting.
Deadly violence has erupted at the site in the past.