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ICC Rules it Has Jurisdiction Over West Bank And Gaza ‘Abuses’

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A Palestinian flag over protest near Israeli settlement (file photo)
Palestinians have been calling for the ICC to investigate alleged abuses for years

The International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that it has jurisdiction over war crimes and atrocities committed in the Palestinian territories.

The judgement paves the way for the court to open a criminal investigation.

Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had previously called for investigations, saying there was “a reasonable basis to believe” war crimes had happened.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised the ruling, while Palestinian officials praised it.

“This decision [of the ICC] is a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh was quoted by Palestinian news agency Wafa as saying.

Israel, which is not a member of the ICC and rejects its jurisdiction, pledged to “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution from what they called a “political body”.

“The court in its decision impairs the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” Mr Netanyahu said.

The ruling comes just over a year after Ms Bensouda said that a preliminary examination had gathered enough information to meet all criteria to open an investigation.

Naming both the Israel Defence Forces and Palestinian groups like Hamas as possible perpetrators, she asked the court to establish what areas any future inquiry would cover because of the contested legal and factual issues of the territories.

Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends a trial in the Hague, the Netherlands
At the time, Ms Bensouda asked the court to “rule expeditiously” so that her office could proceed

The ICC has been part of the global justice system since 2002. It 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 UN secretary general accepted the accession of the Palestinians in 2015.

In their decision Friday, the ICC said it had decided by majority that the court’s jurisdiction “extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”.

The court said the decision was based on rules in the court’s founding documents and does not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal borders.

A State Department spokesman said the US had “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction in the region.

The decision was welcomed by human rights groups. Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director for Human Rights Watch, labelled the ruling “pivotal”.

“It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice,” she said in a statement.

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