Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 15:42 UK

UN appoints Gaza war-crimes team

Richard Goldstone 1999
Mr Goldstone headed the UN tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda

The UN has appointed South African judge and former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to lead a fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip.

Mr Goldstone will investigate alleged violations of international law during the recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Martin Uhomoibhi, president of the UN Human Rights Council, said the mission would be independent and impartial.

Israel calls the council biased and has previously refused to co-operate.

Mr Goldstone will lead a four-member team, which also includes experts from Pakistan, Britain, and Ireland, in investigating "all violations of international humanitarian law" before, during and after the Israeli campaign in Gaza that ended on 18 January.

"It's in the interest of the victims. It brings acknowledgment of what happened to them. It can assist the healing process," Mr Goldstone said.

"I would hope it's in the interests of all the political actors, too."

The fact-finding mission, which will aim to provide clarity on the legality of the deaths and destruction, is due to start work in the region within weeks, the UN said.

Israel 'singled out'

The council voted to set up the investigation into at a special meeting in January, after widespread allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli forces in Gaza.

I believe I can approach the daunting task that I have accepted in an even-handed and impartial manner
Richard Goldstone

However, the Israeli army says its operations in the Gaza Strip "were carried out in compliance with the rules of warfare under international law".

It says it took "numerous measures to avoid causing harm to the civilian population".

The Palestinian militant group Hamas is widely accused of basing its forces within heavily populated areas, allegations it denies.

The Israeli government has in the past refused to co-operate with UN human rights council investigations, including one led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It is not clear whether Israel will co-operate with the new investigation.

"This committee is instructed not to seek out the truth but to single out Israel for alleged crimes," said Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

He said the council was a discredited body.

'Shock' appointment

Mr Goldstone is a former UN chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He is also a former judge at the South African constitutional court.

He is also on the board of governors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Mr Goldstone said he was "shocked, as a Jew", to be invited to head the mission.

"I've taken a deep interest in what happens in Israel. I'm associated with organisations that have worked in Israel.

"And I believe I can approach the daunting task that I have accepted in an even-handed and impartial manner."

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