GENEVA, Switzerland - U.N. investigators will visit Gaza next week to examine whether Israeli troops and Hamas extremists committed war crimes during their three-week conflict last winter, the global body said yesterday.
The mission, led by South African prosecutor Richard Goldstone, will depart Geneva today for the Middle East and is expected to cross into Gaza from Egypt on Monday, the United Nations said in a statement.
Goldstone, a Jew with close ties to Israel, said last week that he repeatedly asked the Israeli government to cooperate with the mission, to ensure that it could visit southern Israel and the town of Sderot, which was hit repeatedly by Palestinian rockets, and then enter Gaza "through the front door."
The team's plan to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt indicates that Israel has yet to extend its cooperation.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said the probe had "a mandate to find Israel guilty no matter what" from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has a record of criticizing the Jewish state for its treatment of Palestinians.
The investigators "have been instructed to prove that Israel is guilty, and we will not collaborate with such a masquerade," Palmor said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked Israel to work with the team, which also includes Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics; Hina Jilani, a human-rights advocate from Pakistan; and Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces with expertise on international criminal investigations.