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UN moves on Gaza probe despite Israeli objections

Voice of America

20 May 2009

A U.N. human rights expert says he will proceed with a mission to the Gaza Strip to investigate possible war crimes during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict despite Israeli objections.

The U.N.’s Richard Goldstone says Israel has not responded to his request to enter the country and cross into Gaza for his investigation of Israel’s offensive against Hamas rulers.

Speaking in Geneva Wednesday, he said his four-member team hopes to visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, before crossing into Gaza. But, he says the team will enter Gaza through Egypt if necessary.

Israel objects to the mission because, in its view, it is based on a biased mandate.

The 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council initially instructed the investigators to examine accusations of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. It later broadened the mission’s scope to look at the actions of both sides in the war.

Goldstone says he also has decided to hold public hearings in which witnesses will testify about the conflict. He says the hearings will be held in Geneva if it is not possible to locate them in the region.

It will be the first time a U.N. human rights investigation conducts such public hearings. The hearings will be modeled on inquiries Goldstone conducted in post-apartheid South Africa, where he served as a judge.

Goldstone, who is from South Africa, says his team must submit its report by August 4. The other investigators include British law professor Christine Chinkin, retired Irish army colonel Desmond Travers and Pakistani human rights advocate Hina Jilani.

The U.N. team also plans to visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel says it launched the Gaza offensive in December, 2008 to stop cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. The fighting killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Before it ended in January it also had destroyed thousands of homes in Gaza and damaged its infrastructure.

Palestinians and international rights groups accuse Israel of war crimes. Israel blames Hamas for the heavy casualties, accusing the militants of using schools, mosques and residential areas for cover.