War crimes immunity for Gaza push: Israeli PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday vowed never to allow his country's leaders or soldiers stand trial for war crimes over their actions during last winter's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday never to allow his country's leaders or soldiers to stand trial for war crimes over their actions during last winter's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In a keynote address to the Knesset, the Jewish state's parliament, Netanyahu furiously denounced a recent United Nations report that accused Israel of intentionally harming civilians when it launched a massive attack in Gaza to stop years of rocket fire.

Netanyahu's fiery rhetoric — and his decision to open the high-profile speech with remarks on the UN report — reflected the deep distress felt among Israeli leaders over the UN commission's report.

"This distorted report, written by this distorted committee, undermines Israel's right to defend itself. This report encourages terrorism and threatens peace," Netanyahu said in his address at the opening of parliament's winter session. "Israel will not take risks for peace if it can't defend itself."

The UN report, compiled by a team led by former war-crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure during a three-week offensive against Hamas militants last winter.

The report also accused Hamas of war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror with rocket attacks.

Israeli officials across the board have condemned the report, saying the military operation came in response to years of Hamas rocket attacks. They also blame Hamas for civilian casualties, saying the Islamist militant group took cover in residential areas during the fighting.

Netanyahu angrily rejected the report's portrayal of Israeli leaders as war criminals and vowed to protect them from possible prosecution at the international court in The Hague.

While Netanyahu has repeatedly lashed out at the UN report, Monday's comments appeared to be a direct response to a new Palestinian push for a vote on the report in the UN's Human Rights Commission. If the vote takes place, the matter could be referred to higher UN bodies that could theoretically push for war crimes prosecution.