updated 10/16/2009 11:41:24 AM ET 2009-10-16T15:41:24

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Friday to endorse a Gaza war crimes report and send it to the Security Council, possibly setting up international prosecution of Israelis and Palestinians accused of war crimes.

The council approved a Palestinian-backed resolution after two days of debate on the Goldstone report, which it had commissioned following the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 conflict in which almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

The resolution passed 25-6, with mostly developing countries in favor and the United States and five European countries — Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia and Ukraine — opposing.

Eleven mostly European and African countries abstained, while Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote. Russia and China, two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, were among those voting yes.

"The clock on the report starts now," said Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Authority's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, adding that he hoped the Security Council in New York would take up the report.

U.S. veto?
If the report is considered by the 15-member Security Council, the U.S. is likely to use its veto to block any call for getting the International Criminal Court involved in the dispute over Gaza or taking action against Israel.

The 575-page report, compiled by an expert group led by Judge Richard Goldstone, concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its incursion into the Gaza Strip to root out Palestinian rocket squads.

It also accused Palestinian armed groups including Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through rocket attacks on southern Israel.

In Ramallah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed Friday's vote.

"What is important now is to translate words into deeds in order to protect our people in the future from any new aggression," Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Israel and the U.S. called the Goldstone report "flawed" because it ignored Israel's right to defend its people from Palestinian rocket fire. They warned that the vote could jeopardize Middle East peace prospects.

Far-reaching consequences
Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also said endorsing the report could have far-reaching consequences.

"Whoever votes in favor of endorsing the report must understand that next time it will be the soldiers and officers of NATO in Afghanistan, and then Russian soldiers and officers in Chechnya," Lieberman said late Thursday.

U.S. diplomat Douglas M. Griffiths told the council that Washington was disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

"We're focused on moving forward in the peace process and we feel that this is a distraction from that," Griffiths told The Associated Press.

The resolution — which also condemns recent Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem — endorses the report's recommendation that both sides in the conflict should show the Security Council within six months that they are carrying out credible investigations into alleged Gaza abuses. If they are not, the matter should then be referred to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo had no comment Friday on a possible war crimes probe into the Gaza conflict.

Prosecutors are analyzing a declaration in January in which the Palestinian Authority accepted the court's authority over territory it controls — something only sovereign nations are allowed to do.

Palestinians filed their recognition in the hope that if the court accepts it, Moreno Ocampo would then have jurisdiction to launch an investigation into war crimes committed by both sides during the Gaza conflict even without an order from the Security Council.

Israel does not accept the court's jurisdiction.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged both sides earlier this week "to carry out impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations into reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law."

More on: Gaza | Israel | Palestinians

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