Image: Protests in Gaza.
Hatem Moussa  /  AP
Protesters throw shoes at a poster of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a demonstration in Gaza City on Wednesday.
updated 10/7/2009 3:46:06 PM ET 2009-10-07T19:46:06

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.

In Gaza, a group of university professors hurled shoes at an Abbas poster in a particularly harsh show of contempt.

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 from human rights groups and intellectuals, as well as from his Hamas rivals, who have rejected the war crimes charges leveled by the U.N. against themselves but want them pursued against Israel.

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."

'You traitor'
In Gaza, hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president were plastered on walls Wednesday. Abbas and Hamas have been bitter rivals since the Islamic group violently seized control of Gaza from pro-Abbas forces in June 2007.

One poster showed a photo of Abbas with a black X across his face and the words: "To the trash heap of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas."

A crew dressed in civilian clothes was seen putting up the posters Wednesday morning. The posters were signed "university professors and intellectuals."

Later, about 30 professors and protesters concluded a press conference condemning Abbas by hurling shoes at a large version of the poster. Throwing a shoe at someone is considered a severe insult in Arab culture.

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.

Both sides deny crimes
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, has said the report is unfair to Israel and 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 harming civilians. It said Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately at civilians in southern Israel.

Both Israel and Hamas have denied they committed war crimes.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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