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Originally published Monday, October 19, 2009 at 6:29 AM

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Jurist: Ties to Israel obligated war crimes probe

The internationally renowned jurist who oversaw a U.N. report accusing Israel of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip said Monday that his deep attachment to the Jewish state compelled him to carry out the investigation.

Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM —

The internationally renowned jurist who oversaw a U.N. report accusing Israel of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip said Monday that his deep attachment to the Jewish state compelled him to carry out the investigation.

South African jurist Richard Goldstone also faulted Israel for not cooperating with the investigation in an op-ed piece published in the Jerusalem Post, an English-language Israeli daily. It was the first time he has reached out to the Israeli public since his report was published last month.

Goldstone's report on the three-week winter war has set off an uproar in Israel. Leaders say the document was biased and commissioned by a U.N. body known for its hostility against Israel. The report's harsh findings against Hamas militants in Gaza have done little to temper the criticism, much of which has been personal. Some critics have gone so far as to accuse Goldstone of being a pawn of anti-Israel forces.

Goldstone, who is Jewish and has strong connections to Israel, said he has been hurt by the attacks. He noted his years of work battling human rights abuses in places as diverse as South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, China, Russia and Iran.

"I would have been acting against those principles and my own convictions and conscience if I had refused a request from the United Nations to investigate serious allegations of war crimes against both Israel and Hamas," he wrote. "As a Jew, I felt a greater and not a lesser obligation to do so."

Goldstone also took Israel to task for not cooperating with the investigation, saying it had committed a "grave error" by not telling its side of the story.

"Israel could have seized the opportunity provided by the evenhanded mandate of our mission and used it as a precedent for a new direction by the United Nations in the Middle East. Instead, we were shut out," he said.

Israel attacked Gaza last December in a mission it says was meant to end eight years of incessant rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the offensive, including hundreds of civilians, according to Palestinian officials and human rights groups. Thirteen Israelis, including four civilians, also died.

The 575-page report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields and destroyed civilian infrastructure during the incursion.

It also accused armed Palestinian groups including Hamas, which controls Gaza, of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through years of rocket attacks on southern Israel.

It called on both sides to carry out credible investigations into alleged abuses, or face possible referral to international war crimes prosecutors. Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council, the body that commissioned the investigation, endorsed the report.

"Israel has an internationally renowned and respected judiciary that should be (the) envy of many other countries in the region," Goldstone wrote in the op-ed. "It has the means and ability to investigate itself. Has it the will?"

Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, saying the rights council has a history of anti-Israel decisions and could not possibly be fair. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the report's findings encourage terrorism and would make it difficult to pursue peace since it questions Israel's right to self-defense.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group backed by Syria and Iran, has welcomed the report's harsh condemnations of Israel while brushing off the criticism of its own conduct.

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