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UN panel censures Israel for Gaza attack

GENEVA -- The UN Human Rights Council yesterday condemned Israel -- the only country the body has censured during its six-month existence -- for an artillery barrage that killed 19 civilians in a northern Gaza town.

The UN's top human rights monitor also voted to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun, the target of recent Israeli military operations to end Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

It was the third time the UN's most powerful rights body censured Israel since its creation earlier this year to replace the highly politicized and much-maligned UN Human Rights Commission.

The council voted 32-8, with six abstentions, to approve the resolution sponsored by the body's powerful Muslim bloc. Most European Union members voted against the resolution because they considered it too one-sided, but France abstained.

Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the special session was another example of the council's lack of objectivity. "Those who pushed for this special session are conspicuously ignoring tragedies in other parts of the planet," he said.

China, Russia, and Cuba joined members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in supporting the resolution.

Finland, speaking on behalf of the EU, called on both the Israelis and Palestinians to end violence and said the council should address "all human rights violations wherever they occur."

Pakistan's Ambassador Masood Khan rejected criticism that the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has 17 members in the council, was unbalanced in singling out Israel.

The Beit Hanoun shelling, which Israel said was unintended, came after Israeli troops wound up a weeklong incursion meant to curb Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the town.

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