richard goldstone 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel will not cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council investigation into whether war crimes were committed during Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, a Foreign Ministry source said Wednesday evening.
The investigation team, which was set up earlier this month, is not expected to arrive in the region for a number of weeks.
Jerusalem views the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council as badly biased against Israel. For instance, in its three years of existence, the council has passed 32 resolutions, 26 of them against Israel.
The Foreign Ministry official said the move not to cooperate was made after it was determined that the Human Rights Council's decision to set up the investigation was "one-sided" against Israel.
The official pointed out that Israel had cooperated earlier with a UN team set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon investigating allegations that the IDF had shelled UNRWA facilities in the Gaza Strip.
In New York, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged both sides to cooperate with the investigation because it will be led by Richard Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge and former chief UN prosecutor of war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch noted that it had criticized the UN Rights Council in the past "for its exclusive focus on Israeli rights violations."
However, Goldstone has the "experience and proven commitment to ensure that this inquiry will demonstrate the highest standards of impartiality," the group wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 27 European foreign ministers.
Human rights groups have said Hamas should be investigated for firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and for using Gaza civilians as human shields.
Investigators must also look at the IDF's practices, such as firing imprecise artillery and white phosphorous shells in densely populated Gaza, the groups have said.
Israel's refusal to work with Goldstone raises questions about whether he will be able to carry out his mission. Investigators have not yet said when they will visit the region, but without Israeli cooperation they would be denied access to crucial information from the military.
Goldstone, 70, is Jewish, has close ties to Israel and is known for his impartiality.
But Israeli diplomats said their opposition has nothing to do with who heads the investigation.
"[It's] not about Justice Goldstone," said Aharon Leshno Yaar, the Israeli ambassador to UN organizations in Geneva on Tuesday. "It's clear to everybody who follows this council and the way that it treats Israel that justice cannot be the outcome of this mission."
Goldstone, who was given the task earlier this month, said he only accepted after the Nigerian president of the council, Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, broadened the assignment to include violations by Hamas as well as Israel.
Hamas has persistently denied it violated the laws of war. Israel says Hamas gunmen used schools, mosques and homes to store weapons and launch missiles, thus turning them into targets.
Yousef Rizka, an adviser to the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said the investigators "will find full cooperation of the Palestinian government and Palestinian people because the crimes of the occupation are clear and no one can underestimate them."