The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Sunday that his office will “further intensify its efforts to advance its investigations” in the occupied Palestinian territories, after he visited the region for this first time since his appointment.
There have been widespread claims of breaches of international law by Hamas and Israeli forces since war erupted after the deadly Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and other militants that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel. Around 240 more were taken hostage.
The Hague-based court has been investigating crimes in the Palestinian territories committed by both sides since 2021 but has yet to announce any charges. Israel is not a member state of the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction.
Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a written statement issued after his visit that he witnessed “scenes of calculated cruelty” at locations of the Oct. 7 attacks.
“The attacks against innocent Israeli civilians on 7 October represent some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, crimes which the ICC was established to address,” Khan said, adding that he and his prosecutors are working “to hold those responsible to account.”
He added that he is ready to engage with local prosecutors in line with the principle of complementarity – the ICC is a court of last resort set up to prosecute war crimes when local courts cannot or will not take action.
Khan also visited Palestinian officials in Ramallah, including President Mahmoud Abbas. He said of the war in Gaza that fighting in “densely populated areas where fighters are alleged to be unlawfully embedded in the civilian population is inherently complex, but international humanitarian must still apply and the Israeli military knows the law that must be applied.”
He said that Israel “has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law. Credible allegations of crimes during the current conflict should be the subject of timely, independent examination and investigation.”
The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said Saturday that the overall death toll in the strip since the Oct. 7 start of the war had surpassed 15,200. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but it said 70% of the dead were women and children. It said more than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.
Khan also expressed “profound concern” at what he called “the significant increase in incidents of attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank,” saying that “no Israeli armed with an extreme ideology and a gun can feel they can act with impunity against Palestinian civilians.”
He called for an immediate halt to such attacks and said his office is “continuing to investigate these incidents with focus and urgency.”
Khan said he would seek to work with “all actors” in the conflict to “ensure that when action is taken by my Office it is done on the basis of objective, verifiable evidence which can stand scrutiny in the courtroom and ensure that when we do proceed we have a realistic prospect of conviction.”
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war