ICC chief prosecutor: “In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
– WATCH: Israeli PM Netanyahu: The prosecutor “has turned the ICC into a political tool to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor announced on Friday she wants to open a full investigation into alleged Israeli “war crimes” in Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled territories.
“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement quoted by AFP.
“In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, “she added, without specifying the perpetrators of the alleged crimes.
Bensouda added that before opening a full probe, she would ask the ICC to rule on the territory over which it has jurisdiction because of the “unique and highly contested legal and factual issues attaching to this situation.”
“Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza,” she said.
Bensouda urged judges to rule on the court’s jurisdiction “without undue delay”.
The prosecutor added however that she did not require any authorization from judges to open a probe as there had been a referral from the Palestinian Authority, which joined the court in 2015 and has since filed a series of legal complaints with it against Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the decision and said it made the Hague-based court, which Israel has refused to sign up to since its creation in 2002, a “political tool” against the Jewish state.
“This is a dark day for truth and justice. The ICC prosecutor has decided not to dismiss outright the Palestinian claim against the State of Israel. It is a baseless and outrageous decision,” he said.
The PA welcomed the move by the ICC as a “long overdue step” following a nearly five-year preliminary probe by the prosecutor into the situation since the 2014 war in Gaza.
“We view this step as reflecting the Office of the Prosecutor’s intent to finally open an investigation into the situation in Palestine once the deliberations of the Chamber are concluded. After nearly 5 years of preliminary examination, the Palestinian people who seek redress in this Court expect actions congruent with the urgency and gravity of the situation in Palestine and they rightly demand that these steps are taken without delay,” said the PA “foreign ministry”.
“The State of Palestine will partake in the judicial process to reaffirm that this matter is already clearly settled as a matter of international law. The Office of the Prosecutor has jurisdiction over the occupied territory of the State of Palestine, given that Palestine is a State Party to the Rome Status and that the State of Palestine granted the Prosecutor jurisdiction to look into crimes committed in its territory,” it added.
Bensouda’s announcement came hours after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that the ICC has no jurisdiction to rule on matters in Israel – which is not a party to the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court – because the Palestinian Authority is not a state, and that it has been long established that the final status of the territories under dispute must be settled by negotiations, not criminal proceedings.
Earlier this month, the ICC prosecutor refused to press charges over a deadly 2010 Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship.
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