UN panel hears Gaza war testimony

UN human rights mission has begun hearing testimony in its
investigation of alleged war crimes by Israel and Hamas during the
22-day Gaza war earlier this year.

The fact-finding mission opened a two-day public hearing on Sunday
in Gaza City where it began hearing from victims of the conflict, which
began in late December 2008.

hearing, which is being broadcast live for the public, will also
include testimony from experts on the impact of the Israeli siege and
military operation on the Palestinian enclave.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Gaza, said the panel
heard from several expert witnesses, including one from the World
Health Organisation, who spoke about the "dire state" of the
territory's health system.

was telling them that that very much compounded the effect of the war
and the suffering of the people of Gaza when it came to the ...
bombardment," she said.

"Of course we also heard harrowing testimonies from those involved -
the Deeb family and perhaps none more famous than the Samouni family,
who we spoke to at length during the war," our correspondent said,
referring to two families who lost several relatives in the offensive.

She said they told the panel of spending several days trapped in a
house with the bodies of their dead relatives during the height of the

'Bias' allegations

The panel is to hold a second round of public hearings on July 6 and
7 in Geneva where it will hear from victims of alleged violations in
Israel and the West Bank.

The UN chose the Swiss city as the
venue of the second round of hearings because the fact-finding
mission did not receive permission to enter Israel.


Our correspondent said the
panel had hoped to visit Israel to hear from people affected by Hamas
rocket fire in the south of the country.

"They can't do that because Israel has said from the very first
moment that this fact-finding mission was established, that it is
biased and pro-Palestinian and they won't have any part of it," she

The public hearings were called for by Richard Goldstone,
head of the 15-member team and previously a member of the South African
constitutional court.

"The purpose of the public hearings in Gaza and Geneva is to show
the faces and broadcast the voices of victims – all of the victims,"
Goldstone said on Thursday, at the end of a four-day fact-finding trip
to Gaza.

Goldstone also said that the public hearings in both
Gaza and Geneva will augment the ongoing investigations of the
fact-finding mission.

"The fact that not all important
incidents and events are the subject of the public hearings should in
no way be interpreted as meaning that the other incidents are of lesser
importance or of less concern to the mission," he said.

The mission is due to complete a report with its findings in August.

Israeli offensive

Israel launched its offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers
on December 27, citing frequent rocket attacks from the enclave that
caused injuries to residents and damage to property in Sderot and other

The military operation killed more than 1,400 Palestinians,
including more than 900 civilians, among them scores of children,
according to Palestinian officials and human rights groups.

It also destroyed thousands of homes and heavily damaged Gaza's infrastructure.

Israel says the death toll was lower and most of the dead were Hamas fighters.

Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the fighting.

Gaza's reconstruction is being hampered by Israel's blockade of
Gaza, which dates back to June 2007 when Hamas took control of the

Since then, Israel and Egypt, which control Gaza's only border
crossing that bypasses Israel, have kept the territory of 1.5 million
aid-dependent people sealed to all but essential humanitarian supplies.

Israel has insisted that the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas
from arming itself. Human-rights groups say it is a collective

The fact-finding mission is mandated by the UN to investigate all
violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws that
might have been committed at any time in the context of the military
operations conducted in Gaza.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Source: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/06/2009628161417989935.html

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