UN's Goldstone completes public hearings on Gaza conflict
July 8, 2009
GENEVA - The head of the United Nations fact-finding mission for the recent war in the Gaza Strip said Tuesday that he regrets having not been given access to Israel to see the situation on the ground there.
South African Justice Richard Goldstone commented after the last two days of public hearings in Geneva, where he and the three other members of the commission heard testimony from Israelis, Palestinians from the West Bank and special experts.
“We would very much have preferred to have this take place in southern Israel, from where victims came, and on the West Bank,” said Goldstone, a former war-crimes prosecutor for Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
“But, I think, it is well known the government of Israel decided not to cooperate with the mission.”
He pointed out that Hamas did not fully cooperate with the team, either.
Israel alleged the mission was biased against the Jewish State. Goldstone said that he was investigating all possible violations of international law by the parties to the conflict.
The team spent time in the Gaza Strip carrying out investigations and holding similar public hearings with Palestinians who said they were victims of human-rights abuses.
“One doesn’t understand really the effect on people, the suffering of people, if one doesn’t get onto the ground and speak to people and listen to people,” said the judge.
He said the scenes the mission witnessed in the blockaded territory “shocked” them.
He refused to talk about any conclusions, saying a report was being compiled to be presented in September to the Human Rights Council.
In Geneva, Goldstone heard the testimony of Israelis from the southern part of the country in areas that came under rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza.
The commission spoke with Noam Shalit, father of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive and incommunicado in the enclave since 2006. The International Committee of the Red Cross has demanded, but failed to receive, any access to the soldier.
Also testifying were lawyers from the West Bank, weapons specialists and experts on international humanitarian law.
One member of the commission, Christine Chinkin, has come under criticism from UN Watch, an organization connected to the American Jewish Committee, saying she was biased against Israel.
In January, as the conflict was taking place, the international law professor signed a petition saying Israel’s actions were “prima facie war crimes” and that Hamas, the militant group ruling Gaza, had committed war crimes.
During the war, which started on December 27 and lasted three weeks, human-rights groups say that more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, along with Israeli fatalities of three civilians and 10 soldiers.
Copyright 2009, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
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