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ICC to open preliminary probe into possible Gaza war crimes

Mahmud Hams, AFP | Palestinian child in Gaza in July, 2014.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories to determine if a formal investigation should be launched into acts committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict.


The Hague-based prosecutors said they would examine “in full independence and impartiality” crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year. The move allows the court to investigate actions taken during the July-August 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, during which more than 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed.

The court stressed that, at this stage, the ICC’s actions should not be considered a formal investigation.

“It is not an investigation,” Emeric Rogier, chief of situation analysis at the ICC, told FRANCE 24 by telephone. “It is a process in which the office will gather information on alleged crimes committed in Palestine since 13 June 2014.”

Emeric Rogier, ICC Prosecutor’s office: 'We hope that Israel will cooperate'

“We will analyse this information and it is only at the end of this preliminary examination that the prosecutor will decide to open a formal investigation,” Rogier added.

The ICC’s decision to launch a preliminary probe was immediately condemned by Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he rejected the ICC decision, which he called "scandalous", claiming the court had no jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories.

The ICC’s Rogier said he hoped Israel would cooperate with the examination despite not being a signatory to the ICC treaty, known as the Rome Statute.

The investigation was branded as “outrageous” by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a statement. “The court, which after more than 200,000 killed in Syria did not see fit to intervene ... finds it necessary to ‘examine’ the most moral army in the world,” he said.

An initial inquiry could lead to war crimes charges against Israel, whether relating to the recent Gaza war or its 47-year-long occupation of the West Bank. It also occupied Gaza from 1967-2005. Palestinians are seeking the establishment of a state in the two territories.

“A door is being opened which could eventually lead to charges against Israeli leaders, so this is definitely ruffling some feathers,” Gallagher Fenwick, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Jerusalem, said.

The ICC move also exposes the Palestinians to prosecution, possibly for rocket attacks perpetrated on Israel by militant groups operating out of Gaza.

ICC struggles

In a statement last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on April 1 following a Palestinian request for membership – a move strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.

The ICC has been criticised for focusing on Africa while being unable to intervene in some of the world’s bloodiest and most intractable conflicts.

The world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, the ICC is the court of last resort for its 122 member states, aiming to hold the powerful accountable for the most heinous crimes when national authorities are unable or unwilling to act.

But the court has struggled over its first decade, completing just three cases and securing two convictions. Critics say it has been vulnerable to political pressure and opposition from non-members the United States, China and Russia.


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