U.N. war crimes inquiry to depart for Middle East
GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators will travel to the Middle East this weekend to examine the three-week offensive Israel launched in Gaza last December, the group said on Friday.
The four-member team headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone will arrive in Gaza on June 1 and spend about one week there, it said in a statement.
The mission will enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing point from Egypt, it said. That implied that Israel had not granted the group entry.
Earlier a U.N. spokesman said that Goldstone had written repeatedly to the Israeli authorities requesting visas and permission to enter but had not yet received a positive reply.
Goldstone said earlier this month that he hoped to visit Gaza and southern Israel and hold public hearings on whether war crimes may have been committed in the December-January conflict.
The public hearings are likely to be held during a further visit planned for later in June, council sources said.
During next week's visit, which is likely to run until Saturday, the mission plans to meet victims and witnesses of alleged violations, non-governmental and civil society organisations and United Nations agencies.
According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 people including 926 civilians were killed during Israel's December 27-January 18 offensive in the Hamas-ruled territory of 1.5 million people.
Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting, which it launched with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire by militants. It says 1,166 Palestinians were killed, 295 of them civilians.
International human rights groups have called for a credible independent investigation of the conduct of Israeli troops in Gaza, looking at the destruction of several Gazan residential areas and firing artillery shells containing white phosphorous which can cause severe burns.
Israel says an internal probe by its armed forces last month found no evidence of serious misconduct by its troops.
(Reporting by Laura MacInnis and Jonathan Lynn; editing by Michael Roddy)
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