But the UN Human Rights Council deferred endorsement of the report, led by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge, until March as requested by sponsors of the resolution who were acting on behalf of the Palestinians.

Criticism rejected

Critics accused Abbas of letting down his people by bowing to US pressure on the resolution, but Abbas dismissed the criticism on Sunday.

"The issue of postponing the vote didn't come from us - we are not members of this international organisation [UN]," he said.

"The one who introduced the request was the Arab countries. And the one who decided in the end not to withdraw the request, but to postpone the discussion until March, was the great powers, with the approval of the Arab, Muslim, and African parties," he said.

In depth


 
Video interview: Richard Goldstone
 Timeline: Gaza War
 Analysis: War crimes in Gaza?
 Goldstone's full report to the UN rights council
 Key points of the Goldstone report
 UN inquiry finds Gaza war crimes
 'Half of Gaza war dead civilians'

"I believe all the Arab brothers are members of the organisation and they all know very well that the postponement of the vote happened with their knowledge and approval."

Clovis Maksoud, a former Arab League ambassador to the UN, said the PA's decision was "very mind-boggling".

"[It's] actually a slap in the face of Goldstone, who meticulously and objectively brought about a serious indictmennt of war crimes against Israel," he told Al Jazeera.

Media reports said the Palestine Liberation Organisation delegation to the UNHRC, which has no members of Hamas on it, had tried to prevent a discussion on the report under US pressure.

The US, in welcoming the delay, said it was in the interests of efforts to restart peace talks with Israel that the UN body gave both Israel and Hamas more time to pursue Goldstone's recommendations to conduct their own investigations into possible war crimes.

Hamas has condemned Abbas. Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, said Abbas's move "encouraged the occupier ... to continue his crimes".

But even within Fatah, voices were raised against the PLO decision in Geneva on Friday. Abbas faces anger in the West Bank where his PA governs.

"The consent to defer the vote had cost us dear. We'll need years to fix this mistake," one Fatah official said.

Flawed position

"The fact is that the PA as a representative has allowed and discussed the matter and allowed the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference to go through with postponing this decision," Maksoud said.

"I think the American position - that the report was flawed - was a non-starter and  indicates the continuation of the US policy of shielding Israel from condemnation."

Over 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war, a third of them women and children [AFP]
Salam Fayyad, Abbas's prime minister, has demanded the report's recommendations be implemented in full, while Ali Jarbawi, the Palestinian planning minister, expressed his "surprise" over the consent to postpone the vote.

On the streets of Ramallah, Abbas's West Bank base, there was dismay over the delay.

"This shows that the Palestinian leadership cannot be trusted to defend our just cause and this will cost us international sympathy," Husam Ahmad, a bank clerk in the city, told the Reuters news agency.

More than a dozen rights groups said they planned to march in Ramallah on Monday to "seek justice" and to condemn the PA's decision.

Shawan Jabarin, who runs the al-Haq human rights watchdog in Ramallah, said Abbas has "lost a lot from this".

"Even the average man in the street thinks [Abbas] has given up the rights of the victims and given up on pursuing Israeli war criminals."

Talks frozen

Formal negotiations with Israel on establishing a Palestinian state have been suspended since the Gaza conflict.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on Thursday said the UN would deal a "fatal blow" to prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace if it endorsed the Goldstone report, which Israel has said is biased.

The 575-page document blamed both the Israelis and the Palestinian group Hamas for war crimes, but was more critical of Israeli troops for "targeting and terrorising civilians".

Of its 31 chapters, only one related to alleged war crimes by Palestinian fighters.

During the three-week Gaza war, more than 1,400 Palestinians, one-third of them women and children, were killed, while Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians.