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By Laura MacInnis
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday endorsed a U.N. report that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza, passing a resolution that singled it out for censure without referring to wrongdoings by Hamas.
The report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone accuses both sides of war crimes in Gaza but is most critical of the Jewish state. Up to 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the war last December and January.
In a special session proposed by the Palestinians, 25 states including China, Cuba, Russia and Nigeria endorsed the resolution. Six including the United States voted against, and 11 abstained. Four, including France and Britain, did not vote.
Palestinian officials promptly called for further U.N. inquiries into Israel's actions.
"The international community should make sure that the decision will become a precedent that will ensure the protection of the Palestinian people from any aggression," said Nabil Abu Rdaineh, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
But Israel, which has wholly rejected the charges in the 575-page report, said the vote would impair the Middle East peace process and also boost militants around the world.
"This resolution provides encouragement for terrorist organisations worldwide and undermines global peace," the Israeli government said in a statement.
The resolution endorsed all Goldstone's recommendations, including the view that the war crimes issue should be referred to the U.N. Security Council if the two sides failed to conduct credible domestic investigations with six months, and possibly then the International Criminal Court.
U.S. OPPOSED
U.S. charge d'affaires Douglas Griffiths said the United States had voted against the resolution because of its one-sided approach and "sweeping conclusions of law," which could unsettle the fragile Middle East peace process.
"This resolution goes far beyond even the initial scope of the Goldstone report into a discussion of elements that should be resolved in the context of permanent status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he said.
Taher al-Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, said Hamas would investigate the recommendations of the report.
"We hope that the vote may be the beginning of the prosecution of the leaders of the occupation," he said.
In addition to slamming Israel's lack of cooperation with the Goldstone inquiry, the text "strongly condemns all policies and measures taken by Israel, the occupying power, including those limiting access of Palestinians to their properties and holy sites particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem."
It also called for the U.N. General Assembly to consider the findings and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back on Israel's adherence to them, moves that could keep Israel in the international spotlight.
The Human Rights Council had agreed during its last regular session to postpone discussion of the Gaza report under pressure from Washington aimed at getting the Middle East peace process back on track.
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came under sharp criticism at home for agreeing to the delay, leading to the request for a special session.
Half of the 12 special sessions the Human Rights Council has held since its launch in 2006 have related to Israel. Israel's ambassador in Geneva told the forum the vote was another attempt to deflect attention from gross abuses elsewhere.
"Many of the speakers over the past two days showed no genuine interest in the Israelis or Palestinians other than ensuring that the glare of Geneva is never shined towards them," Aharon Leshno Yaar said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Falloon in London and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Kevin Liffey)

Reuters