Barak to UN Chief: Probe Hamas rockets, not Israel 'war crimes'
Israel refuses to cooperate with investigative team; Hamas: Zionist enemy must be brought to justice.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday told the United Nations secretary general during their meeting in New York that the international body's investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip was misguided.
Rather than question Israel's military activities during the Gaza war earlier this year, Barak told Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations should investigate why militant rocket fire has yet to stop after eight consecutive years.
"I don't think Israel has to - or will - cooperate with this interrogation," Barak said.
The defense minister described as "very good" his general discussion with Ban, that centered around the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the situation in Lebanon as it prepares for general elections and the impact of North Korea's nuclear test on the rest of the world.
United Nations human rights investigators began work in the Gaza Strip on Monday to try to determine whether war crimes were committed during the offensive Israel launched in the Hamas-ruled territory last December through January.
Israel said it would not cooperate with the four-member team, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, which entered the Gaza Strip via Egypt.
"We have come here to see, to learn, to talk to people in all walks of life; ordinary people, governmental people, administrative people," Goldstone told reporters.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the Israeli government believed the committee had been told "to find Israel guilty even before the investigation begins".
Welcoming the investigation, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement: "We hope to see the leaders of the Zionist enemy brought to justice as soon as possible as war criminals in the international courts."
The investigators plan to spend a week in the Gaza Strip. Goldstone said the group would probably visit again later in the month and submit a report in early August.
International human rights groups have called for a credible independent investigation of the conduct of Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip, looking at the destruction of several residential areas and firing of artillery shells containing white phosphorus which can cause severe burns.
According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 people including 926 civilians were killed during Israel's Dec. 27-Jan. 18 offensive in the coastal enclave of 1.5 million people.
Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting, which it launched with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire by militants. It says 1,166 Palestinians were killed, 295 of them civilians.
Israel says an internal probe by its armed forces last month found no evidence of serious misconduct by its troops.