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HRW praises Israel renewing UN rights council ties

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Human Rights Watch on Monday praised Israel's decision to resume ties with the UN's rights council, which the Jewish state was boycotting over scrutiny of humanitarian issues in occupied Palestinian territories.

"Israel's decision to end its misguided boycott of the UN Human Rights Council is a positive step," the New York-based watchdog's Bill Van Esveld said in a statement.

"To engage meaningfully with the UN on human rights, Israel should now reverse its wrongful position that its human rights obligations don't apply to the occupied Palestinian territory, start working with the UN's human rights team on the ground, and stop blocking visits from UN rights experts," he said.

An official told AFP on Sunday that Israel would attend the Geneva-based UNHRC's Universal Periodic Review on October 29, after media reports that Germany had warned of a diplomatic backlash if it stayed away.

Israel cut ties with the UNHRC in March 2012 after the body said it would probe how Israeli settlements may be infringing on Palestinians' rights.

On January 29, Israel became the first country to boycott a council review of its human rights record.

Israel accuses the UNHRC of singling it out as part of the agenda of each of its three annual meetings, as well as passing a number of resolutions against it.

A foreign ministry official told AFP on Sunday that Israel would not go so far as to seek membership of the UNHRC, but decried Israel's status at the UN.

"We are not seeking membership of the Human Rights Council," the Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.

"We couldn't if we wanted to. We want to be members of a regional group, which is so far prevented from us, thus blocking possible access to HRC membership."

Israel has demanded upgraded status in the UN's informal regional bloc the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG).

Israel is part of WEOG for UN institutions based in New York, but not those based in Geneva, such as UNHRC.

"This is part of the general discrimination against Israel in the UN," the foreign ministry official said. "If you're not a member of a faction but a singular body, you don't get in" to committees that hold sway over appointments of certain UN officials, he said.

He said Israel should technically be part of the UN's Asia regional group, but its joining that bloc is opposed by Arab states within it.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Sunday that Germany had warned Israel of "severe diplomatic damage" if it failed to attend Tuesday's meeting.

The paper said the warning had come in the form of a personal letter from German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, delivered to the Israel's embassy in Berlin on Friday.

Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the Haaretz report.

In June, Israel expressed readiness to re-engage with UNHRC, which later announced that a special meeting devoted to Israel would be held on October 29.

Israel has come under widespread criticism for ramping up its construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including in annexed east Jerusalem.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131028/hrw-praises-israel-renewing-un-rights-council-ties