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South African to head U.N. rights inquiry in Gaza | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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GENEVA, (Reuters) – South African judge Richard Goldstone will lead a United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza, the U.N. Human Rights Council said on Friday.

The four-member team, which also involves experts from Pakistan, Britain, and Ireland, hopes to start its fact-finding work in the region within weeks, according to a U.N. statement.

Goldstone, a former war crimes prosecutor, said he would review conduct by both sides in Israel’s 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

“It is in the interest of all Palestinians and Israelis that the allegations of war crimes and serious human rights violations related to the recent conflict on all sides be investigated,” he said in the statement.

According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 people including 926 civilians were killed in the December-January conflict. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Israel has accused Hamas fighters in Gaza of using civilians as human shields during the fighting. Rights groups have also criticised Hamas for firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.

“It is my hope that the findings of this mission will make a meaningful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East and to providing justice for the victims,” said Goldstone, who served as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The team’s mandate stems from a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council at a special session on Jan. 12.

The 47 member-state forum, dominated by Muslim countries and their allies, condemned Israel for “grave violations” of human rights during its offensive and called for an international mission to probe wrongdoings.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and independent U.N. rights envoy Richard Falk have also called for an investigation into whether Israeli forces committed war crimes in the coastal strip where 1.5 million people live.

Pillay, a former judge at the International Criminal Court, has raised specific concerns about the Israeli shelling of a home that killed 30 Palestinian civilians, and a lack of care for young, starving children whose mothers died in the attack.

Falk, in a report to the Council last month, said launching attacks without the ability to distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilians “would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law.”

As Gaza’s borders were sealed, civilians could not escape harm, which may constitute a crime against humanity, according to the American law professor. He suggested the U.N. Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal on the matter.

Israel’s military has been rocked by soldier accounts about the killing of civilians in Gaza, and allegations that deep contempt for Palestinians pervaded its ranks.

Military investigators said on Monday that Israeli soldiers were passing on unsubstantiated rumours when they said Israeli troops shot unarmed Palestinian women and children. It was not immediately clear whether Israel would cooperate with Goldstone’s probe, which is separate from an investigation ordered by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon into damage to United Nations property in Gaza, including U.N.-run schools.

The other members of Goldstone’s inquiry are Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, British international law professor Christine Chinkin, and retired Irish colonel Desmond Travers.