UN Probe to Hold Hearings in Gaza, Geneva

A United Nations inquiry into alleged war crimes during Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip said on Thursday it will hold public hearings in Gaza territory and Geneva this month.

The questioning will concern victims of the conflict "in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel" and begin in Gaza in the third week of June, continuing in Switzerland the following week, the mission’s chairman Richard Goldstone.

Israel has vetoed the U.N.’s hopes of staging similar hearings in Israel and the West Bank, he told a press conference in Gaza City.

"We had hoped to have public hearings in Gaza, in southern Israel and on the West Bank but because of the refusal by Israel to cooperate with the mission, we are not able to fulfill that hope," he said.

Israel has refused to cooperate with the probe, with the foreign ministry claiming it was based on a biased mandate and sought to tarnish the country’s reputation.

Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in June 2007, announced that it would help the mission to complete its work.

The U.N. mission aims to complete its report in early August for publication in September.

Goldstone, who served as prosecutor in International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, refused to comment on the evidence gathered by the mission since the delegation arrived in the impoverished enclave on Monday.

However, he said the 15 delegates have visited 40 sites in Gaza and spoken to some 70 witnesses and relatives of victims, including the al-Samouni family that lost 29 members in an Israeli bombing on Jan. 5.

Israel’s 22-day war against Gaza launched in Dec. 27 killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, wounded more than 5,000 others and destroyed more than 5,000 houses, according to Palestinian officials, in addition to the widespread damage in the impoverished territory.

(Alarabiya.net English and Agencies)

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