ICC opens ‘war crimes’ investigation in West Bank and Gaza

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The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Fatou Bensouda said the probe would cover events in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since June 2014.

Last month, the Hague-based court ruled that it could exercise its criminal jurisdiction over the territories.

Israel rejected Ms Bensouda’s decision, while Palestinian officials praised it.

The US expressed disappointment and opposition to the move.

The ICC has the authority to prosecute those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes on the territory of states party to the Rome Statute, its founding treaty.

Israel has never ratified the Rome Statute, but the court ruled that it had jurisdiction because the United Nations secretary general accepted the Palestinians’ accession to the treaty in 2015.

Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians claim the territories for a future independent state.

What prompted the prosecutor’s decision?

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ms Bensouda explained that her office was obliged to act “where a state party has referred a situation” to it and “it is determined that a reasonable basis exists to commence an investigation”.

Ms Bensouda said she had carried out a “painstaking preliminary examination” that lasted close to five years and promised that the investigation would be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.

Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends a trial in the Hague, the Netherlands
image captionFatou Bensouda said the “central concern must be for the victims of crimes”

“We have no agenda other than to meet our statutory duties under the Rome Statute with professional integrity,” she said, noting that she had declined to investigate the 2010 killing by Israeli troops of 10 Turkish activists on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara.

“In the current situation, however, there is a reasonable basis to proceed and there are admissible potential cases,” she added.

Ms Bensouda,¬†who will be succeeded by British prosecutor Karim Khan in June, also stressed that the “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”.

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