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ICC to visit Israel to assess alleged war crimes at request of Palestinians

Israeli Foreign Ministry says the International Criminal Court will be allowed to conduct a preliminary visit in unprecedented move 

Tuesday 06 September 2016 09:19 BST
A Palestinian child is rescued from under the wreckage of their house, destroyed by an Israeli airstrike during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014
A Palestinian child is rescued from under the wreckage of their house, destroyed by an Israeli airstrike during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 (Getty)

A delegation from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will be allowed to visit Israel to assess whether the country could be put on trial for alleged war crimes during the 2014 Gaza War, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has confirmed.

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including 490 children, were killed in the 51-day Operation Protective Edge, which began on 8 July 2014. Israeli losses totalled 64 soldiers and six civilians, including a four-year-old boy.

The ICC launched a preliminary investigation in May this year, shortly after the West Bank Palestinian Authority (PA) was approved as a member. The PA filed evidence on both the 2014 conflict and other more recent violent incidents.

Smoke rises after an airstrike by Israeli forces in the south of Gaza City in July 2014 (EPA) (EPA/MOHAMMED SABER)

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told media on Friday that the ICC would be permitted to visit, but “how and when” is yet to be discussed.

“The Palestinian leadership has provided the ICC with documentation relating to apartheid, illegal settlements in [the] West Bank and East Jerusalem, and crimes associated with the settlement regime,” Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq said in a statement. “There are 23 counts in all, including seven war crimes relating to last year’s Gaza war.”

The PA’s case is understood to centre around complaints about arson attacks on Palestinian homes and the shelling of a hospital, Gaza’s main power plant and a UN school being used as a shelter.

Israel denies all allegations of war crimes by its forces during the 2014 conflict, accusing Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, of using civilians as human shields in order to carry out rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

The decision to allow ICC investigators into the country is unprecedented, since Israel usually refuses to co-operate with external investigators. A United Nations delegation tasked with investigating military operations was refused entry to Gaza in 2009, and again in 2014.

The ICC would only be able to open an inquiry – which could take years – if the preliminary visit from prosecutors concludes that Israel is unwilling or unable to effectively conduct its own investigations.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has stressed that the ICC has been invited to visit in order to prove that “we have nothing to hide”, adding that The Hague has “no jurisdiction or authority” to conduct an investigation on Israeli soil.

Last month the Israeli Defense Forces cleared itself of any wrong doing in 13 cases bought by Palestinians over the 2014 war, including the shelling of the United Nations school in Rafah that killed ten civilians. Another 80 complaints were not investigated, prompting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to criticize Israel's “low rate of investigations... into these serious allegations”.

A representative from the Israeli Foreign Ministry could not be immediately reached.

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