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Spurned by Israel and welcomed by Hamas, UN war crimes investigators arrive in Gaza

June 1, 2009 11:09 A.M. (Updated: June 1, 2009 11:09 A.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - A UN fact-finding commission into alleged violations of international law committed during Israel's recent offensive arrived in Gaza via Egypt's Rafah crossing on Monday morning.

Israel has announced it will refuse to cooperate with South African jurist Richard Goldstone's investigation, while Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza, says it welcomes the team, which was tapped by the UN's Human Rights Council.

In a statement issued on Monday Hamas said it praised all efforts by human rights committees and organizations that work to reveal the truth about the Gaza war.

Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum welcomed Goldstone's team, saying, "We are ready to help these committees and encourage them to unveil the truth and bring out all the hidden details of what took place during the war, hoping to show the entire world the truth."

Barhoum added in a statement sent to Ma'an: "I consider that the Israeli rejection of dealing with such committees proves that they committed crimes in Gaza and they want [the truth] to be hidden."

Hamas official Ghazi Hammad and local UN officials met the investigators at the crossing.

The inquiry is led by a Jewish South African judge, Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The team also includes Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics; Hina Jilani, a human rights advocate from Pakistan; and Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces with expertise on international criminal investigations.

According to a statement issued by the UN in Geneva, the team's initial field visits will take place over the coming five days, with future visits in the works.

The commission was established with a mandate to "investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after."

"In accordance with its mandate," the UN statement said, "the Mission will focus on relevant violations by all parties in the entire occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza and the West Bank, and Israel."

More than 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the three-week assault in December and January.

Israel maintains that its own internal investigations are sufficient inquiry into war crimes allegations, but human rights organizations reject these probes as a cover-up.

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