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UN war crimes inquiry to visit Gaza in June

May 20, 2009 12:57 P.M. (Updated: May 20, 2009 12:57 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - A United Nations team tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes plans to visit the Gaza Strip and Israel in early June, even though Israel has not formally approved the visit.

South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who is heading the four-member commission, told reporters in Geneva that Israel has not formally responded to a request to enter the country.

However, he said the four were prepared to enter Gaza through Egypt's Rafah border crossing as a "second choice," according to Reuters.

"One decision we have taken is we will have a number of days of public hearings. If we can in the region, so much the better, and if necessary we will have them in Geneva," Goldstone told reporters after the team held talks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, according to Reuters.

Israel killed nearly 1,500 Palestinians during its three week onslaught on Gaza last December and January, including some 900 of civilians. Rights groups say that there is significant evidence that Israel violated international humanitarian law in failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, among other offenses.

The inquiry team appointed by the UN Human Rights Council is to report back by 4 August. It will also to probe allegations that Palestinian fighters violated the laws of war by targeting civilians with homemade projectiles.

Reuters reported Goldstone said he had made a direct approach to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be able to enter Israel but had received no response. However, he said he was aware of reports last month that Israel does not plan to cooperate.

Hamas said in April it would accept a UN investigation into Israel's actions in Gaza.

"It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel and Sderot, to go through Gaza through the front door, to go into the West Bank which is also included in our mission," he said, according to the news agency.

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