For 18 months Israel has refused to grant visas to a UN team seeking to investigate the deaths of 19 Palestinian civilians from an Israeli artillery attack in the Gaza Strip. Now the team, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has decided to enter the Strip through Egypt via the Rafah crossing, the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday.
In November 2006 an IDF artillery battery targeting Qassam launching cells in Gaza accidently hit a residential neighborhood, killing 19 civilians, most of them members of the same family.
Israel assumed responsibility for the deadly mishap, and offered humanitarian assistance to those wounded.
A month after the incident the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva announced Israel had refused to allow the UN-assembled committee appointed to probe the civilians' deaths access to the region.
Tutu himself was denied an entry visa, despite repeated requests.
The Prime Minister's Office said in 2006 that as Israel had already confirmed its error had led to the deaths of the civilians, the UN delegation had no purpose.
However then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, visited the scene of the attack several short weeks later without incident.
Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, met with the Archbishop to explain why the group had been denied entry. "The mission to Beit Hanoun emanates from a biased resolution of the
Human Rights Council that does not deal with all the parties concerned and is silent on the issue of Palestinian violence."
“In my meeting with Rev. Tutu,” Ambassador Levanon said, “I stressed the fact that our decision has nothing to do with the persons involved in the Mission, but rather with the Council itself, which has been hijacked by member states whose sole purpose is to criticize and besmirch Israel.”