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US lawmakers urge Blinken to halt UN probe into crimes committed during Gaza conflict

House members say UN investigation is part of 'continued broader bias against Israel'
A street is seen on 30 September 2021, through a building destroyed by Israeli bombing last May, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
A street is seen on 30 September 2021, through a building destroyed by Israeli bombing last May, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

More than 40 members of the Unted States Congress have sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling on the Biden administration to lead an effort to end a United Nations commission looking into alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

The bipartisan group of 42 House members, led by pro-Israel Democrat Josh Gottheimer and Republican Vicky Hartzler, said the investigation looking into possible Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories reflects a "continued broader bias against Israel", and said the UN should focus its attention elsewhere.

"Please know that while Congress may be divided on the Administration's decision to rejoin the [UN Human Rights Council], we stand united in urging you to act upon the Administration's commitment to defend Israel from discriminatory treatment at the Human Rights Council and throughout the UN system," the letter said.

Last year, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) agreed to launch an investigation with a broad mandate to probe all alleged violations Israel had committed against Palestinians following its May offensive on Gaza, which killed at least 248 Palestinians including more than 60 children.

The investigators, who have been tasked with trying to identify those responsible for violations with a view to ensure they are held accountable, are due to present their first report in June.

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The letter states that the council's mandate is "designed to accelerate the political, economic, and legal challenges to Israel and undermine its legitimacy by pressuring international legal institutions to take action against Israeli leaders".

The members of Congress stress that, in addition to the commission's investigation into last year's conflict with Gaza, its mandate will allow for probes into "any allegations against Israel in the past or in the future, whether in the West Bank or Gaza or in all of Jerusalem, and even within the recognized pre-1967 borders of the State of Israel".

The US rejoined the UNHRC in February 2021 after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the organisation. Still, Washington has said the council is "flawed" in its criticism of Israel.

The Biden administration has formally and publicly opposed the commission since its creation, and voted to entirely defund it last month, according to the letter.

"The US stands with Israel in rejecting the unprecedented open-ended mandate of this Commission of Inquiry, which perpetuates a practice of unfairly singling out Israel in the UN," Ambassador Patrick Kennedy said at the time.

The Human Rights Council was founded in 2006 with the aim of "strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights", and consists of 47 countries elected to three-year terms by the UN General Assembly with quotas allocated to each continent.

It has been criticised for the election of members with poor human rights records. But while pro-Israel lawmakers in the US complain that the council unfairly targets Israel, only a fraction of its resolutions in 2020 focused on the Israeli government.