ICC prosecutor warns keeping aid from Gaza may be a crime, as Israel-Hamas war probed

Karim Khan calls for cooperation as he looks into October 7 massacre along with Israel’s response in Gaza, says he is ‘very concerned’ about reported spike in West Bank violence

Palestinians push carts with water canisters in Rafah on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (AP/Hatem Ali)
Palestinians push carts with water canisters in Rafah on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (AP/Hatem Ali)

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan said Sunday his institution was conducting “active investigations” into the October 7 Hamas massacres, as well as the situation in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Visiting the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, Khan also warned that preventing access to humanitarian aid could constitute a war crime and urged Israel to allow more trucks into the enclave.

Khan said his office had “active investigations” ongoing into “any crimes committed on the territory of Palestine and any crimes committed, whether it’s by Israel and Palestine or whether it’s acts committed on the territory of Palestine or from Palestine into Israel.”

“This includes current events in Gaza and also current events in the West Bank,” Khan said, adding that he was “very concerned also by the spike of the number of reported incidents of attack by settlers against Palestinian civilians” in the West Bank.

He indicated the investigation was a continuation of the ICC’s existing probe focusing on the 2014 Israel-Hamas conflict, Israeli settlement policy and the Israeli response to protests at the Gaza border that was launched by Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda and approved in 2021.

Israel, which isn’t a member of the court and hasn’t ratified its Rome Statute, has refused to cooperate with the ICC.

The court’s jurisdiction only covers the West Bank and Gaza, but Khan indicated it could also cover actions by Gazans on October 7, when some 2,500 Palestinian terrorists broke into southern Israel, killing some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping over 230.

The destruction caused by the Hamas terror group’s October 7 onslaught in Kibbutz Nir Oz, near the Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 19, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“We are independently looking at the situation in Palestine, we’re looking at the events in Israel and the allegations that Palestinian nationals have also committed crimes, we need cooperation and assistance,” he said.

He noted that hostage-taking was a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

“I call for the immediate release of all hostages taken from Israel and for their safe return to their families,” Khan said.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo later, the British lawyer said he wanted “to underline clearly to Israel that there must be discernible efforts without further delay to make sure civilians” in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory “receive basic food, medicines.”

“Impeding relief supplies as provided by the Geneva conventions may constitute a crime within the court jurisdiction,” Khan said. “I saw trucks full of goods full of humanitarian assistance stuck where nobody needs them, stuck in Egypt, stuck at Rafah.”

A truck carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip crosses the Rafah border gate in Rafah, Egypt, October 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)

“These supplies must get to the civilians of Gaza without delay,” he added.

An Israeli military official said Sunday that “hundreds of tons” of humanitarian supplies have been provided so far to Gaza through a joint mechanism managed together with the US, Egypt and the UN.

The aid goes through Israel into Egypt via the Nitzana border crossing between the two countries south of Gaza where it undergoes a security check. It is then taken through the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border and transferred to UN agencies for distribution.

“We are trying to act in accordance with the international laws of war in order to minimize any harm to civilians, but war has consequences,” said IDF Col. Elad Goren, who heads the civilian department of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “But Hamas started a war against the State of Israel, and its [the Hamas] government harms and exploits those who are trying not to take part in terrorism.”

He added that the amount of humanitarian aid that will be transferred to the territory will “increase dramatically” in the coming weeks.

Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court looks up prior to a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, July 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Khan also warned Israel about sticking to the laws of conflict as it carries out airstrikes and a ground offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas, the Strip’s de facto rulers.

“Israel has clear obligations in relation to its war with Hamas, not just moral obligations but legal obligations,” he said.

“These principles equally apply to Hamas in relation to firing indiscriminate rockets into Israel.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 8,000 people have been killed since October 7, mainly civilians and half of them children. The figures cannot be verified, and are thought to include fighters as well as those killed by rockets misfired by terror groups in the Strip. Israel says it does not target civilians and has sought to limit civilian casualties, including by urging those in northern Gaza, where the main fighting is taking place, to move south.

This image taken from the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 29, 2023, shows a black cloud of smoke ascending from the Gaza Strip (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The ICC prosecutor evoked the Holocaust and World War II in explaining the reason for his mission to the region, saying the ICC will work professionally to “separate allegation from fact,” and examine all relevant evidence.

“This is a moment of objectivity, a moment of quiet reflection and it needs to be a moment in which the international community and the international architecture built on the rubble of World War II, the terrible gas chambers and the Holocaust, the razing of cities throughout Europe, [which] was meant to create institutions that would ensure never again would we see abominations where people could be targeted for their race, religion, culture, where they come from or what passport they hold,” said Khan.

“Those promises need to be fulfilled.”

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