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UN's Goldstone collects evidence from Israeli victims

July 6, 2009 4:38 P.M. (Updated: July 6, 2009 4:38 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - Israeli witnesses of the country's assault on Gaza last winter testified before UN human rights investigators on Monday in Geneva.

South African Judge Richard Goldstone, a former war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, headed a panel that heard from victims of attacks on southern Israel.

At one point, Goldstone comforted a woman who began crying during her testimony while describing injuries all over her body caused by a homemade projectile launched at Ashkelon during the assault, according to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Goldstone told her there was no need to apologize for breaking down during the investigation and added that his committee sympathized with her pain, calling her story important, the newspaper reported.

Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin and a number of other Israeli residents and officials testified before the panel in Switzerland, where they were forced to travel due to Israel's refusal to cooperate with the probe.

Also in Geneva on Monday was the father of a soldier who was captured in a cross-border raid over two years before the Gaza conflict began in late December 2008. Noam Shalit had recently submitted a written statement calling for his son's release.

In early June the Hamas-affiliated de facto prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, spoke with Goldstone and the two discussed claims of Israeli aggression toward Gazans and allegations of war crimes in the latest assault on Gaza, in addition to the ongoing siege.

Haniyeh accused Israel of a number of attacks against Palestinians, the commercial siege and claims that Israelis are preventing Palestinians from "all life sources," in addition to shelling residential buildings, "killing mothers and children in cold blood" and using prohibited weapons, violating international law, and torturing Palestinian detainees.

The Hamas prime minister said the Israeli war on Gaza that began in late December 2008 was "humiliating to humanity itself and not just to Palestinians," insisting on the importance of sending "these war criminals to court and judging them for their crimes."

For his part, Goldstone insisted that he would seek justice and that his committee will be honest, praising the cooperation of the de facto government, which is run by Hamas.

Regarding Israel's participation in the investigation of both sides' conduct during the assault, Goldstone said the country was approached a number of times in an effort to seek its cooperation.

"The response," he said, "was a complete refusal."

"But we will not let that stop us from carrying out our mission," Goldstone added, ". the refusal of cooperation will not in any way decrease the weight of our investigation," noting that his team would also probe Israel's own allegations of war crimes committed by its opponents, part of which began Monday in Geneva.

He also said that Palestinians' attitudes toward the probe had been "admirable" and their cooperation would be noted in the report, including that of the Hamas-run government.

Goldstone, a Jewish South African judge and veteran of two international war crimes tribunals, was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead the investigation into Israel's assault on Gaza that killed nearly 1,500 and injured thousands.

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