Friday, June 5, 2009

UN team arrives in Gaza to investigate possible war crimes

In an expedition similar to the one recently conducted by Council for the National Interest, a fifteen-member UN investigatory team has entered Gaza in an effort to determine whether Israel or Hamas committed war crimes during the recent 22-day siege of Gaza. Because of accusations by Israeli officials that the group has an “anti-Israel” bias, the prominent Jewish war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone was selected to lead the expedition. Mr. Goldstone is a prominent South African Constitutional Court judge and also served as the Chief UN Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Despite this gesture, Israel still refused to grant visas to the group and necessitated their entry to the area via Egypt, causing major delays.

In an effort to obtain a complete and accurate account of what took place during Israel’s offensive in December and January, the group plans to meet with any and all concerned parties, including UN representatives, witnesses, victims, and local NGOs. So far the group has spoken to roughly 70 witnesses and relatives of victims. Although the mission was originally intended to focus solely on Israeli offences, outcry from Israeli officials led to the inclusion of actions taken by Palestinian extremist groups as well. Hamas rocket fire into Southern Israel was the cause of death for dozens of Israelis and was the catalyst for Israel's military action.

It is estimated that roughly 1400 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s military operation in Gaza, although this number is disputed by Israeli officials. Since then, several organizations have conducted investigations into alleged war crimes with mixed results. Some of the more prominent accusations include the use of white phosphorous (supplied by the United States) on schools, hospitals, and UN buildings in Gaza. Additionally, there are allegations that the Israeli military is continuing to harass and even shoot Gazan farmers and workers. While the Israeli military investigation concluded that their soldiers acted lawfully with the exception of a few errors, the Arab League analysis went so far as to claim that both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants were guilty of war crimes. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has requested $11 million of compensation for UN property destroyed in the siege.

We will continue to post updates as results from the expedition come in. Read the full BBC article here.