Reuters, 20 May 2009
GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights investigators said Wednesday they hoped to visit Gaza and southern Israel in early June and hold public hearings on whether war crimes were committed in the recent conflict.
Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who heads the four-member team, said Israel has not yet officially responded to its request to enter the country for the investigation into its invasion of Gaza in late December.
But the team was prepared to enter the coastal strip via the Rafah crossing in Egypt, a “second choice,” Goldstone said.
“We are intent on doing our fact-finding mission, taking account of all relevant factors and allegations by all parties,” said the former chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
“We have to complete our field work by the end of June.”
Israel lost 10 soldiers and 3 civilians in the offensive, which it launched with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire by militants. It says 1,166 Palestinians were killed, 295 of them civilians.
International human rights groups have called for a credible independent investigation into the conduct of Israeli troops in Gaza, including the destruction of several Gazan residential areas and firing artillery shells containing white phosphorous which can cause severe burns.
Israel says an internal probe by its armed forces last month found no evidence of serious misconduct by troops.