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Israel slams Palestinian award for UN apartheid report

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Israel decried a decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to honor a former UN chief responsible for a report that accused Israel of building an apartheid state.

United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Rima Khalaf, announced her resignation at a news conference in Beirut after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for the report to be taken off the ESCWA website. She stated that saying "powerful member states" pressured the world body and its chief with "vicious attacks and threats."

"I do not find it surprising that such member states, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices," Khalaf, of Jordan, wrote to Guterres.

"It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims," Khalaf wrote in the resignation letter, seen by Reuters, adding that she stands by the ESCWA report.

On Saturday, Abbas said he would award the highest Palestinian medal to Khalaf for her courageous stand in support of the Palestinians.

Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, said on Twitter Abbas was waging "a diplomatic war on Israel" by announcing the award, describing the report as "libelous and false".

The ESCWA report said Israel "established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole" and that there was "overwhelming evidence" Israel had committed the "crime of apartheid".

Hanan Ashrawi, an executive member of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the report was a "step in the right direction" and should be reinstated.

"Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censored or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible," Ashrawi said in a statement on Saturday.

Israel reacted angrily to the report, with foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon comparing it to Nazi-era propaganda. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said earlier on Friday that Khalaf's resignation was appropriate and Israel's U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said it was "long overdue.

"Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN," Danon said in a statement."

"U.N. agencies must do a better job of eliminating false and biased work, and I applaud the Secretary-General's decision to distance his good office from it," Haley said in a statement.

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