International Criminal Court team visits Israel, West Bank

International Criminal Court team visits Israel, West Bank

Trip aims at ‘outreach and education activities,’ will not seek to collect evidence amid ongoing war crimes probe into 2014 Gaza conflict

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda sits in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, September 27, 2016. (AFP/ANP/Bas Czerwinski)
Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda sits in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, September 27, 2016. (AFP/ANP/Bas Czerwinski)

A delegation from the world’s only permanent war crimes court is visiting Israel and the West Bank this week to “promote better understanding” about its work, the chief prosecutor said Wednesday.

The trip, from Wednesday until next Monday, is the first to the region by officials from the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court since the 2014 Gaza war.

The ICC team will travel to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement, for “meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials at the working levels.”

But she made no mention of whether the delegation would travel to the Gaza Strip and stressed the visit was not aimed at investigating any allegations.

At the request of the Palestinians, Bensouda’s office has opened an initial probe into alleged war crimes by both sides during the July-August 2014 conflict.

She said the visit was “not linked” to her preliminary investigation, which she said “is ongoing and is following its normal course.”

“The purpose of this visit will be to undertake outreach and education activities with a view to raising awareness about the ICC and in particular, about the work of the office,” Bensouda said.

The delegation from her office “will not engage in evidence collection in relation to any alleged crimes,” she added. “Neither will the delegation undertake site visits, or assess the adequacy of the respective legal systems to deal with crimes that fall within ICC jurisdiction.”

The 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and other factions killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children, according to Gaza-based UN figures. Israel says half of those killed were combatants, and blames Hamas for endangering its own civilians by embedding its military infrastructure, including rocket launchers, in heavily populated areas.

On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, 66 of them soldiers.

Israel and the Palestinians have accused each other of war crimes.

Israel is alleged to have used unnecessary force, while Hamas is accused of indiscriminately firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian population centers and of using Palestinians as human shields. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks the destruction of Israel, seized control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in 2007.

The Palestinians formally asked the ICC last year to investigate the Jewish state, which is not a party to the treaty that governs the court, for alleged war crimes.

While Israel vehemently opposes any ICC investigation, officials have said they will cooperate with the body to convince it of the competence of the state’s own court.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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