Gaza war probe requests delay after chief's resignation

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Geneva (AFP) - UN investigators tasked with probing the 50-day war in Gaza last year asked Monday to postpone their report to allow time to adjust after the head of the team quit under Israeli pressure.

The Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict had been scheduled to present its findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 23.

But in a letter addressed to the head of the council, the investigators requested to delay their presentation until the next council session in June, saying they needed "to adjust our work due to the late resignation of (our) former chair".

Canadian international law expert William Schabas resigned as chair of the commission last month after Israel complained he could not be impartial because he had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organisation in October 2012, the United Nations said.

Schabas strongly denied that he was beholden to the PLO but said he was reluctantly stepping down to avoid the inquiry into the July-August conflict -- commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council -- being compromised in any away.

Israel was not satisfied, calling for the entire inquiry to be shelved, insisting the commission and the Human Rights Council which created it are inherently biased against the Jewish state.

Schabas's resignation left the commission with only two members: former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, who took over as chair, and Doudou Diene of Senegal, who previously served as the UN's watchdog on racism and on post-conflict Ivory Coast.

In her letter, McGowan Davis explained that in addition to dealing with the shrinking of the team, the commission was facing a "large number of additional submissions and documents received over the past few weeks from both sides," which it needed to "analyse with the utmost objectivity."

Joachim Ruecker, the president of the Human Rights Council, said in a statement that he supported the request for extra time "to allow them to finalise a comprehensive report as mandated."

But the council as a whole will need to officially accept the delay, something that could likely happen on Tuesday.

The Gaza conflict ended with a truce between Israel and the territory's Islamist de facto rulers Hamas on August 26 after the deaths of more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

The rights council vowed in August that both Israel and Hamas would be "subjected to a thorough investigation."

But Israel, which has long had a stormy relationship with the council, has fiercely opposed the probe from the start.

Last November, it announced that it would not cooperate with Schabas's investigation because of the "obsessive hostility against Israel of this commission."

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