Israel has reacted angrily to the decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to launch an investigation against it for alleged war crimes, while calling for an arms embargo against the Jewish state.
The decision follows 11 days of fighting earlier this month between Israel and militants in Gaza that left more than 250 people dead, the vast majority of them Palestinians, including more than 60 children.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: "The shameful decision is yet another example of the UNHRC's blatant anti-Israel obsession. Once again, an immoral automatic majority at the council whitewashes a genocidal terrorist organisation that deliberately targets Israeli civilians while turning Gaza's civilians into human shields."
Israel's foreign ministry said any resolution that failed to even mention Hamas, the militant Islamist group that runs Gaza, is "nothing more than a moral failure and a stain on the international community and Israel cannot and will not co-operate with such an investigation".
Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, said the world had turned upside down. "Instead of the free world speaking out clearly against Hamas and its terror leaders, the UNHRC makes an inexplicable decision against Israeli citizens."
Hamas welcomed the move and called for “immediate steps to punish” Israel.
The Palestinian foreign ministry said the UNHRC decision reflected the “determination of the international community to move forward in the path of accountability, law enforcement, and protection of Palestinian human rights”.
Addressing the council's special session, Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said Israel's deadly strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.
She said Israel’s attacks could constitute war crimes if they were deemed to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians. She also cast doubt on Israel’s claim that the buildings it destroyed in Gaza housed Hamas offices, saying “we have not seen evidence in this regard”.
The 24-9 vote at the UNHRC, with 14 abstentions, capped a special session dealing with Palestinian rights. China and Russia were among those voting in favour. Several western and African countries voted against, among them Austria, the UK, Germany, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
The UNHRC commission of inquiry will examine incidents that occurred both before and after April 13th in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza. This covers tensions in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian families were threatened with eviction and clashes around the Al Aqsa mosque in the city's old city. It also means that communal clashes between Arabs and Jews inside Israel can also be investigated.