Tutu mission to probe Beit Hanoun deaths cancelled
UN mission, set to depart to region Sunday, called off due to Israel's refusal to authorize trip, spokeswoman says. Olmert's office responds: 'Commission was sent on premise that Israel targets civilians, did not take into account rocket fire from Gaza'
A UN mission to be led by South Africa's Desmond Tutu to probe last month's deaths of 19 civilians in Gaza under Israeli shelling has been called off because Israel did not authorize the trip, a spokeswoman said on Monday.
The Nobel Peace laureate, who was asked to head the team by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, had other engagements and could not wait any longer for Israeli permission, she added.
"It has been cancelled. We were supposed to go yesterday (Sunday)," Spokeswoman Sonia Bakar said.
The United Nations' top human rights body condemned the Nov. 8 deaths at Beit Hanoun and last month voted to send a mission to investigate the incident.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel had investigated and acknowledged its mistakes in the incident, seeing no role for the UN mission.
"The commission was sent on the premise that Israel targets civilians and it did not take into account the daily rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians."
Israel's envoy: Human Rights Council anti-Israel
Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said in response that "the Mission to Beit Hanoun emanates from a biased resolution of the Human Rights Council that does not deal with all the parties concerned and is silent on the issue of Palestinian violence."
“In my meeting with Rev. Tutu,” Ambassador Levanon said, “I stressed the fact that our decision has nothing to do with the persons involved in the Mission, but rather with the Council itself, which has been hijacked by member states whose sole purpose is to criticize and besmirch Israel.”
The Ambassador emphasized that Israel had already investigated the incident and presented its regrets through the voices of its highest institutions.
The Ambassador shared with Rev. Tutu the strong feeling of the public in Israel that the Human Rights Council had not proven itself able to act in an impartial and objective manner, and that the public perception was that since its inception, the Council had maintained shocking and heinous conduct towards Israel.