THE HAGUE, Netherlands: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was “clear evidence” of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors Tuesday to push for an investigation.
Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and Hamas entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to pave the way for an extended cease-fire.
Malki said the Palestinian Authority wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by all sides and had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court.
Israel and the Palestinians traded accusations of war crimes during the Israeli military onslaught into Gaza, during which Hamas kept up rocket fire into Israel. Both sides defended their actions as consistent with international law.
Last week, the United Nations launched an inquiry into human rights violations and crimes alleged to have been committed by Israel during the offensive given the far higher toll of civilian deaths and destruction on the Palestinian side.
Malki, visiting the court to lobby for action against Israel over its incursion, said the Palestinians aimed to formally ratify the ICC treaty to open the legal avenue for an investigation.
“Everything that has happened in the last 28 days is clear evidence of war crimes committed by Israel, amounting to crimes against humanity,” he told reporters in The Hague.
“There is no difficulty for us to show or build the case. Evidence is there ... Israel is in clear violation of international law.”
Israel declined public comment, but a senior Israeli official who asked not to be identified said any ICC legal action against Israel over the Gaza conflict would prompt an Israeli countersuit at the ICC against the Palestinians.
The Palestinians in 2009 asked the ICC’s prosecutor’s office to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli military in Gaza in 2008-2009.
But so far there has been no probe as Palestine is not an ICC member state and its status as a country is uncertain in some international institutions.
Palestine however in late November 2012 obtained non-member observer status at the United Nations, opening the door for an ICC investigation.
The Palestinian leadership has since been under intense pressure from various countries including the U.S., Britain and France to desist from signing up for an ICC probe.
But Malki said the latest deadly confrontation between Israel and militants from the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza has forced the Palestinians to revisit the issue of ICC membership.
“Israel has left us with no other option than to take this approach,” he said, referring to “atrocities” committed in Gaza.
“We must do everything in our power to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
By joining the court, the Palestinian territories would automatically open themselves up to possible investigations into crimes within their borders and could also grant jurisdiction to investigate crimes dating back to July 1, 2002.
“If it entails action committed by Palestinian groups [against Israelis] then we are ready to accept that,” Malki said. “But nothing compares to the atrocities, the carnage, committed by Israel.”
The ICC, created more than a decade ago to prosecute individuals for war crimes, is a court of last resort, meaning that it will only intervene when a country is found to be unwilling or unable to carry out its own investigation.
ICC prosecutors declined to investigate allegations against Israel relating to its 2012 incursion into Gaza to counter Hamas rocket salvos, citing the unclear status of Palestinians’ quest for statehood recognition at the United Nations.
Amnesty International appealed to the United States Monday to halt transfers of fuel shipments to the Israeli military. It said there was mounting evidence of war crimes from both Israel and the Palestinians and an ICC investigation would be crucial in stopping the cycle of violations.