Palestinians: Gaza probe a ‘serious test’ for ICC

Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, leading visit to region, insists it’s aimed at ‘outreach,’ not war crimes investigation

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images/ via JTA)
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images/ via JTA)

Palestinian officials on Thursday welcomed delegates from the International Criminal Court and said they hoped it would open a war crimes investigation against Israel.

Officials from the world’s only permanent war crimes court are visiting Israel and the West Bank this week against the backdrop of a probe into the 2014 Gaza war. But chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the trip is not linked to her ongoing initial inquiry on the war.

She said the visit is for “outreach and education activities” to raise awareness about the ICC and her own office.

The official schedule does not include a visit to Gaza.

“Palestine is a serious test to the ICC and I don’t think they can afford to fail it,” said Ammar Hijazi, a Palestinian foreign ministry official.

“If they fail Palestine’s test, the whole ICC and the whole international criminal system will collapse,” he told journalists.

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

Some 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed in fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and other factions, according to Gaza-based UN figures. Israel says half of those killed were combatants, and accuses Hamas of 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 is alleged to have used disproportionate force against the blockaded territory, while Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, is accused of firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilian population centers and using Palestinians as human shields.

The Palestinians have also given the ICC files on Israeli settlements and what they say are forcible population transfers.

Israel, which is not a party to the treaty that governs the court, vehemently opposes any ICC investigation.

Officials have said, however, they will cooperate with the body to convince it of the competence of Israel’s own courts.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank and to the Gaza Strip — except its border with Egypt — meaning the ICC visit is dependent on Israel’s goodwill.

The officials, who arrived on Wednesday and leave Monday, will visit Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

They were expected in the West Bank on Saturday and Sunday.

Hijazi said he hoped the ICC would move the case forward by the end of the year.

“There is no lack of evidence and we believe that the office of the prosecutor should have been moving much faster,” he said.

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