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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.”

According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 people including 926 civilians were killed during Israel’s December 27-January 18 offensive in the Hamas-ruled territory of 1.5 million people.

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.

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Associated Press, 03 April 2009

GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations on Friday appointed a widely respected South African judge who is a trustee of Hebrew University to lead a high-level mission to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Israel refused to say if it would cooperate.

Richard Goldstone, the former U.N. chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was named to head the investigation ordered by the Human Rights Council in January.

According to the mandate, the investigation should focus on Palestinian victims of the three-week war between Israel and Hamas earlier this year.

But Goldstone, a Jewish former judge of the South African constitutional court, said his team would investigate ”all violations of international humanitarian law” before, during and after the conflict that ended Jan. 18.

”It’s in the interest of the victims. It brings acknowledgment of what happened to them. It can assist the healing process,” he told reporters in Geneva. ”I would hope it’s in the interests of all the political actors, too.”

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