GENEVA - A UN human rights inquiry on Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip five months ago will hold public hearings, the inquiry's head Richard Goldstone said Wednesday, marking a first for the United Nations.
"A number of days would be dedicated to public hearings," of witnesses, said the former international war crimes prosecutor.
Goldstone said the four-member mission was ready to hold hearings outside the region in Geneva if necessary, especially to hear Israeli witnesses who might not be able to enter Palestinian territory.
"That way we would cover all fields," he told journalists after a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
UN officials said it would be the first time that a UN inquiry held such public hearings, as Goldstone applied his experience as a former judge and investigator in post-apartheid South Africa.
An Israeli official said last month that Israel would refuse to cooperate with the probe, after Israel's foreign ministry claimed that the probe was based on a biased mandate and sought to tarnish the country's reputation.
Goldstone said the UN mission of inquiry had not received an official response yet to its requests to enter the Gaza Strip "through the front door", via Israel.
But the mission would enter Gaza through Egypt "if it's the only way to get in," he added.
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted by a large majority in January to set up the probe into accusations of "grave" human rights violations by Israeli forces against the Palestinians during the military offensive in late December and January.
But when Goldstone was appointed last month, council president Martin Uhomoibhi gave it a broader mandate to deal with "all violations", not only those Israel has been accused of during the incursion.
The panel also includes British law professor Christine Chinkin, retired Irish army colonel Desmond Travers and Pakistan supreme court advocate Hina Jilani.
Goldstone also headed the public inquiry into violence and intimidation in the run up to South Africa's first post-apartheid elections in 1994 that was widely credited with preventing the country's slide into widespread violence.