Syria has postponed a planned visit by the Palestinian president amid controversy about his decision to suspend efforts to have Israeli officials prosecuted for war crimes over last winter’s military offensive in Gaza, a Syrian official said Monday.
The official refused to specify the exact reason for postponing Mahmoud Abbas’ visit, which was scheduled to begin Tuesday. But the decision came a day after Syria criticized the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority for backing down against Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
At issue is the fate of a U.N. report that accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during Israel’s three week offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in December and January.
Late last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council considered a resolution to send the report to the U.N. General Assembly for possible action. Instead, Palestinian diplomats said Friday they would agree to delay the vote until March. With the Palestinians out of the picture, Arab and Muslim states did not take the case further.
The decision, which Israeli and Palestinian officials said was pressed by the U.S., set off a wave of condemnation from various Palestinian groups.
Israeli officials have warned that pursuing the war crimes charges would deal a deadly blow to efforts to restart peace talks.
In going along with the U.S., Abbas signaled that he prefers to protect his strong ties with the Obama administration -- and the implied promise of U.S. help in getting the Palestinians a state -- even at the cost of losing respect at home.
In an attempt to stem growing criticism, Abbas said Sunday he would have a low-level committee look into the decision-making process. It was not clear whether Abbas himself would come under scrutiny.
The U.N. report accused Israel of using disproportionate force and targeting civilian areas, but also faulted Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli towns and using civilians as human shields. Both sides have denied committing war crimes.
Syria is a key ally of Hamas, which ousted Abbas’ Fatah forces from the Gaza Strip in 2007. The two rival Palestinian factions have held several rounds of reconciliation talks mediated by Egypt that Cairo hopes will produce an agreement by the end of the month.