Hamas official speaks at Geneva NGO event but is barred from UNHRC session

Ismail al-Ashqar demands release of jailed Hamas members; Israel works to prevent new fact-finding mission in West Bank

The United Nations on Monday barred Hamas lawmaker Ismail al-Ashqar from UN Human Rights Council meetings at the organization’s Geneva offices, following protests from Israel. But the Hamas official had earlier spoken at an NGO event in the building.

Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar said he wrote to UN officials urging them to deny al-Ashqar access to the UN offices because of Hamas’s advocacy of violence against Israel.

“It’s scandalous that he was allowed into the building,” Leshno-Yaar said. “The honorable thing to do is to simply kick him out.”

Al-Ashqar spoke at an event on the subject of Israel’s arrest of Palestinian lawmakers that was hosted inside the UN building Monday morning by a Sudan-based human rights group. The event was held on the sidelines of the UNHRC, which was holding a simultaneous debate on human rights in the Palestinian territories to which al-Ashqar was not admitted.

At the meeting, attended by about 20 people, al-Ashqar condemned the arrest of Hamas lawmakers as an abuse of their rights. Afterward, he left the UN compound and did not return, said a UN spokeswoman.

“Mr. al-Ashqar was invited by the Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development to speak at an event organized by the Foundation on the sides of the Human Rights Council session,” said spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian.

As a UN-accredited group, the Maarij Foundation can organize side events and invite speakers of its choice, she said.

The global body had assessed the possibility of security threats in connection with the event and allowed it to go ahead, she noted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the event, condemning the UN for hosting the representative of an organization dedicated to murdering Jews.

Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, added: “Only a twisted mind can put Hamas and human rights together.”

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) called the UN’s hosting of al-Ashqar a disgrace for an organization that purports to care about human rights.

“This is a new record for the world’s anti-Israel lie industry. Hamas, which is firing missiles at the homes of innocent civilians, is received with open arms by the same group which regularly condemns Israel’s actions,” stated Hotovely.

Al-Ashqar, a member of the Palestinian parliament who heads the Committee of Interior and Security Affairs in the Palestinian Legislative Council, called on Israel to immediately release Hamas members who are being held in Israeli jails.

Tensions over al-Ashqar’s appearance are part of broader Israeli apprehensions regarding the UNHRC meetings. The council is deliberating over a Palestinian proposal for a fact-finding mission to investigate the effect of the settlements on Palestinian economic and social rights. The council is set to vote on the proposal later this week.

Israeli diplomats are working to persuade UNHRC member nations not to support the establishment of such a mission. According to a Maariv report, Israel sees the move as an obstacle to reviving peace negotiations and has declared that it will not cooperate with such a mission if it is formed.

The UNHRC is the same body that approved the committee led by Richard Goldstone, which investigated alleged war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead; established a committee to review Israeli’s legal system; and set up a committee to review the Turkish flotilla incident in 2010.

The move comes against a background of stalled peace negotiations after low-level talks held in Amman in January failed to yield any progress.

For several years, during the March sessions of the Human Rights Council, the Palestinian delegation has raised the issues of self-determination for Palestinians, the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and a condemnation of the settlements.

However, this year the Palestinians will go beyond asking for a condemnation of the settlements and proposed instead that the council establish a fact-finding mission.

Maariv’s report stated that the Foreign Ministry has instructed its ambassadors to the council member states to lobby against the Palestinian request. Jerusalem has made it clear that it sees the request for a mission as a serious obstacle to renewing peace talks, Maariv said, and Israel will neither cooperate nor allow such a mission entry to Judea and Samaria.

Despite the diplomatic efforts, Israel expects the proposal to pass due to the automatic majority that any anti-Israel vote has in the council. European sources told Maariv that it is likely that European Union members of the council will abstain, together with a small number of African nations. The US is expected to vote against it.

The UN Council for Human Rights was established in 2006 and since then it has condemned Israel nine times, eight of them in one year. In 2010 Libya was chosen as a member of the council but later removed in light of the slaughter of hundreds of people during a period of turmoil in that country.

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