A public hearing organised by a UN team investigating alleged war crimes by Israel and Hamas during the Gaza war is under way.
As part of its investigations into the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza conflict, the UN fact-finding mission will listen to testimony from victims of the conflict for two days in Gaza City and hold a second round of public hearings on July 6 and July 7 in Geneva.
During the hearing, which began on Sunday and is being screened live for the public and the media, the mission will hear from victims of alleged violations and from experts on the context and impact of the Israeli siege and military operations.
The public hearings, which are a part of the information-gathering work of the fact-finding mission, will enable victims, witnesses and experts from all sides in the conflict to speak directly to the international community.
In Geneva, the mission will hear from victims of alleged violations in Israel and the West Bank, as well as from experts on a variety of military and legal issues.
Geneva has been chosen as the venue of the second round of hearings since the fact-finding mission has so far not received permission to enter Israel to hold the sessions in southern Israel and the West Bank.
The public hearings were called for by Richard Goldstone, head of the 15-member team and previously a member of the South African constitutional court.
He has also investigated war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
"The purpose of the public hearings in Gaza and Geneva is to show the faces and broadcast the voices of victims – all of the victims," Goldstone said on Thursday, at the end of a four-day fact-finding trip to Gaza.
Goldstone also added that the public hearings in both Gaza and Geneva will augment the ongoing investigations of the fact-finding mission.
"The hearings are limited in time and scope", he said.
"The fact that not all important incidents and events are the subject of the public hearings should in no way be interpreted as meaning that the other incidents are of lesser importance or of less concern to the mission".
The hearings are only one aspect of the mission's investigative work.
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Gaza, said: "The aim of this mission, according to Goldstone, is to broadcast the voices and to show the faces of the victims.
"This is not about compensation or legal recourse. What the victims want is an opportunity to tell the world what happened in the hope that people will remember their story and the killings of their loves ones will not go unnoticed," she said.
The mission is due to complete a report with its findings in August.
Israel launched its 22-day offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers and the Gazan people on 27 December.
The operation killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, among them scores of children, according to Palestinian officials and human rights groups.
It also destroyed thousands of homes and heavily damaged Gaza's infrastructure.
Israel claims the death toll was lower and most of the dead were Hamas fighters.
Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the fighting.
Gaza's reconstruction is being hampered by Israel's blockade of Gaza which dates back to June 2007 when Hamas took control of the territory.
Since then, Israel and Egypt, which control Gaza's only border crossing that bypasses Israel, have kept the territory of 1.5 million aid-dependent people sealed to all but essential humanitarian supplies.
Israel has insisted that the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming itself, but human rights groups say it is a collective punishment.
The fact-finding mission is mandated by the UN to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations conducted in Gaza.
During the public hearings, witnesses and experts will speak about incidents and experiences regarding loss of life, attacks on physical integrity, destruction of industry and livelihood, and the effects of prolonged conflict on mental health, among others.
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