U.N. Probing Possible War Crimes in Gaza Without Israel’s Approval

By Frank Jordans | May 20, 2009 | 5:47 AM EDT
Geneva (AP) - Former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone said Wednesday that he will go ahead with his U.N. investigation into possible war crimes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Gaza even though Israel has withheld its approval.
Goldstone said the U.N. investigators would enter Gaza through Egypt if necessary, but they had wanted to visit Israel first to assess what happened there.
"I'm disappointed, and the members of the mission are disappointed, that we've had no positive response from the Israeli government," he said. "It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel, Sderot, to go into Gaza through the front door, to go to the West Bank, which is also included in our mission."
Israel has indicated reluctance to go along with the mission ordered by the U.N. Human Rights Council because the original instructions were only to check what Israelis did to Palestinians.
But Goldstone, a Jew with close ties to Israel, only accepted the assignment if he could see what happened on both sides.
He said he approached the Israeli ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, several times and even directly appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"But we've really received no official response. There've been media reports of noncooperation but I regard those as unofficial. It would be good to get an official response and I would hope a positive response," he said.
Leshno Yaar told The Associated Press earlier that it was clear that the council treats Israel unfairly and that "justice cannot be the outcome of this mission."
Goldstone said he decided to make a change in such U.N. investigations by holding public hearings for a number of days.
"If we can have them in the region, so much the better," he said. "But if necessary we will have them here in Geneva. We can use video conferencing facilities and we can also fly witnesses in."
Goldstone, who spoke to reporters after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the war crimes team was still in the planning stage.
Ban declined to join in the news conference Wednesday because he wanted to underscore the independent character of the investigation, said his spokeswoman, Marie Heuze.
Goldstone said the secretary-general was absolutely committed to the mission and "couldn't have been more warm in that support."
He said the team has an Aug. 4 deadline to submit its report.
Goldstone played a prominent role in the campaign against apartheid in his native South Africa and rose to global prominence in 1994 when he became U.N. chief prosecutor for war crimes, heading investigations into genocide in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.
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