Waving to the jubilant crowd, freed Palestinian prisoner Palestinian Khalil Abu Alba, who deliberately drove a bus into a crowd of Israelis, killing eight people, greeted by Hamas’ Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh during a rally celebrating the release of Palestinian prisoners in Gaza City on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
(CNSNews.com) – A United Nations watchdog called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to clarify comments which it said appeared to equate an Israeli soldier abducted and held by terrorists for more than five years with Palestinians serving prison terms for deadly terror attacks.
Speaking in Geneva, Ban told Reuters that he was “very encouraged” by Tuesday’s exchange, in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit return home from captivity in Hamas-ruled Gaza in exchange for the release of 477 Palestinian convicts from Israeli jails, the first of a total 1,027 prisoners Israel has agreed to free in the negotiated swap.
“I am very encouraged by the prisoner exchange today after many, many years of negotiation,” the news agency quoted Ban as saying. “The United Nations has been calling for [an end to] the unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of all Palestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time.”
U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based organization that monitors the U.N. and particularly its Human Rights Council, said Ban should make clear what he meant by the remark.
“Mr. Ban needs to clarify whether, as it appears, he was referring to the Palestinians who committed such gruesome crimes as the bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizzeria that killed 15, the bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21, and the bombing of Netanya’s Park Hotel that killed 29 people attending a Passover seder,” said the group’s executive director, Hillel Neuer.
“We call on Mr. Ban to recognize that those who masterminded and carried out terrorist attacks against women and children are despicable criminals, not innocent victims, and that their detention is a moral and security obligation rather than a so-called violation of human rights,” he said.
“The U.N. was founded on moral clarity, and its highest officials should know better than to engage in false moral equivalence. They should instead be condemning all of those today who obscenely celebrated cold-blooded murderers as heroes.”
A statement released by Ban’s spokesman later in the day offered slightly different wording.
“The secretary-general welcomed the recent prisoner exchange agreement and views today's releases as a significant humanitarian breakthrough,” it said. “He has long called for the end of the unacceptable captivity of Gilad Shalit and has also called for the release of Palestinian prisoners.”
A Hamas security officer overlooks a crowd of Palestinians celebrating the release of prisoners at the main square in Gaza City, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Majed Hamdan)
As CNSNews.com reported, 285 of the 477 Palestinians released on Tuesday were convicted of crimes so serious they were sentenced to life imprisonment. Among the group were people convicted of planning some of the deadliest terrorist attacks carried out in Israel over the past 12 years, including suicide bombings in public buses and restaurants.
The prisoners being freed are estimated to account for the deaths of 588 Israelis in total, almost all civilians, according to Benny Morris, professor of history at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Hamas and other factions held a huge rally in Gaza City to celebrate the return of some 300 released prisoners there while in Ramallah Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas joined a West Bank Hamas leader in welcoming home those returning to areas under P.A. control.
“You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland,” the Associated Press quoted Abbas as telling the released prisoners.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a press briefing that the U.S. was not party to the negotiations over the prisoner exchange, but had been in touch with the Israeli government over some of the prisoners included in the deal.
“We have looked at some of these individuals and we’ve communicated our position after we became aware that specific individuals have been identified as part of this release,” he said.
Asked whether the U.S. concerns related to the possibility that those individuals could pose a threat, or whether the U.S. objected to their release, Toner replied, “Both,” then added, “We had concerns in both spheres, if you will.”