ICC to decide on Israel-Palestinians probe ‘in due course’

ICC to decide on Israel-Palestinians probe ‘in due course’

Delegation head, visiting Israel and West Bank, says criminal court would ‘impartially investigate’ war crimes allegations related to 2014 Gaza conflict from all sides

Phakiso Mochochoko, in charge of the International Criminal Court's cooperation division, answers AFP journalists' questions in East Jerusalem on October 7, 2016. (AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Phakiso Mochochoko, in charge of the International Criminal Court's cooperation division, answers AFP journalists' questions in East Jerusalem on October 7, 2016. (AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI)

The International Criminal Court has no deadline for deciding whether to investigate alleged war crimes by Israel and the Palestinians during the 2014 summer war, an ICC official said on Friday.

“There is no time limit,” the ICC’s Phakiso Mochochoko told AFP during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“In due course when the time is right, when all the conditions have been met and when we have assessed everything, then the decision will be made,” he added.

Mochochoko said on Friday the court would “impartially investigate allegations from all sides.”

Mochochoko’s delegation is in Israel and the West Bank on a six-day visit. He branded a meeting with Israeli officials as “cordial,” but clarified the Israeli side did not provide information related to the probe.

The ICC launched its probe in January, months after the Palestinians joined the body and recognized its 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.

As the probe moves closer to possible criminal investigations, suspected war criminals from the Palestinian side could be named in future indictments.

“(It) has been made clear from the start for the Palestinians, that the court is going to independently and impartially investigate allegations from all sides,” Mochochoko said. “So it is not anything new to them that we are going to be investigating them as well.”

Mochochoko declined to speculate about the number of cases the probe might find or how long the process would take, but said the office was working through “a large volume” of information.

The preliminary examination does not include collecting evidence or hearing testimony from witnesses.

It was not immediately clear what access the ICC will have to Gaza, where most of the alleged war crimes took place. The delegation meets Palestinian officials Saturday.

Mochochoko denied that Israel was blocking a potential visit to Gaza.

“The office of the prosecutor is independent and it is impartial. Nobody dictates the terms of anything to the office of the prosecutor,” he said.

He said the locations visited had been “accepted by both parties as the parameters for this particular mission at this particular stage in time.”

He said the delegation’s visit was purely about explaining the work of the court and not seeking testimony.

“At this stage…we do not have any mandate to engage with witnesses, we don’t have any mandate to collect evidence,” he said.

“We are not doing any fact finding mission,” he added. “What the future holds for us, that remains to be seen.”

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