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Israel balks at UN war crimes investigation of Gaza war

By Diaa Hadid
Associated Press / April 16, 2009
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JERUSALEM - Israel is unlikely to cooperate with a Gaza war crimes investigation because it distrusts the UN agency sponsoring the inquiry, an Israeli government official said yesterday.

Gaza's Hamas rulers said they would work with investigators from the UN Human Rights Council, which ordered the investigation in January shortly after Israel's three-week military offensive in Gaza.

The Israeli government official said Israel sent its response concerning cooperation to the UN agency a week ago. He said Israel is "very unlikely" to cooperate. He spoke on condition of anonymity and said he could not elaborate because it is not clear whether the head of the investigation, Richard Goldstone, has been briefed. Israel has long complained that the council is biased against Israel.

International and local human rights groups have said there is strong suspicion both sides violated the rules of war.

In New York, a leading human rights group on Tuesday urged both sides to cooperate with the investigation because it will be led by Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge and former chief UN prosecutor of war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The group, Human Rights Watch, noted that it has criticized the UN rights council in the past "for its exclusive focus on Israeli rights violations."

However, Goldstone has the "experience and proven commitment to ensure that this inquiry will demonstrate the highest standards of impartiality," the group wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and 27 European foreign ministers.

Human rights groups have said Hamas should be investigated for firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and for allegedly using Gaza civilians as human shields.

Investigators must also look at the Israeli military's practices, such as firing imprecise artillery and white phosphorous shells in densely populated Gaza, the groups have said.

Israel's likely refusal to work with Goldstone raises questions about whether he will be able to carry out his mission. Investigators have not said when they will visit the region, but without Israeli cooperation they would be denied access to crucial information from the military.

Israeli diplomats said their opposition has nothing to do with who heads the inquiry.