International Criminal Court prosecutor opens formal investigation into war crimes in Palestinian Territories

A view of the International Criminal Court is seen in The Hague, Netherlands.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Wednesday opened a formal investigation into possible war crimes committed in the Palestinian Territories.

The decision comes after the court ruled on February 5 that it has jurisdiction in the case, a move which prompted swift rejection from Washington and Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ruling.

“The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years,” outgoing Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.

“In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides,” Bensouda said.

“My office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized.”

Bensouda, who will be replaced by British prosecutor Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019 that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”. She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

The next step will be to determine whether Israel or Palestinian authorities have investigations themselves and to assess those.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the court ruled on jurisdiction, he said: “When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure antisemitism.”

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the prosecutor’s investigation.

It is “a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve”, the PA foreign ministry said in a statement.

A five-year preliminary examination by Bensouda’s office into the Palestinian Territories concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe:

– Israeli forces committed war crimes during Gaza hostilities in 2014, including disproportionate attacks and wilful killing.

– “In the context of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, members of the Israeli authorities have committed war crimes” by allowing settlers to live there.

– Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups committed intentional attacks on civilians, wilful killing and torture in Gaza in the same period since 2014.

– Israeli forces used lethal and non-lethal force against demonstrators in March 2018 near the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel which allegedly resulted in the killing of over 200 people and the wounding of thousands of others.

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