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Palestinian civilians urge ICC to speed up ”war crimes” probe

AFP | The Hague |

Palestinian lawyers and civil society groups urged the International Criminal Court to speed up inquiries and open a full investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza, east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"Since two years Palestine is under preliminary examination," said lawyer Gilles Devers, adding "in Gaza, we think two years is too long." 

The Palestinian Authority has formally asked the ICC to investigate Israel, which is not a party to the Rome Statute that governs the court, for alleged war crimes.

It has presented the court with a dossier alleging abuses during the 2014 summer Gaza war, and for the Israeli occupation and settlement of Palestinian territories.

In January 2015, the tribunal opened a preliminary examination into alleged abuses by all sides in the conflict.

And an ICC delegation visited Israel and the West Bank in late 2016.

But Palestinian activists told reporters today the investigation has stalled, calling for both the ICC and the Palestinian Authority to speed up efforts.

Lawyers representing 448 named victims, and more than 50 Palestinian trade unions and organisations, were handing over today a thick dossier to the ICC prosecutor's office which they said showed "clearly that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed." 

The Gaza conflict, in which according to UN figures 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed in fighting between Israel and Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas and other factions, was clearly "a war crime" and the "ICC was competent" to handle it, said Devers, speaking in English.

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had "an obligation" to move beyond a preliminary examination to a full investigation, he told reporters before meeting with representatives from her office.

The dossier has been drafted by more than 30 lawyers in the Palestinian territories, and it is the first time that Palestinian civil groups, including doctors, farmers, fishermen and teachers, have appealed directly to the ICC.

The group said it has taken the action because of "the lack of political will on behalf of the Palestinian Authority" which it said had not made an official complaint as a state member of the ICC.

Devers said the group was also hoping to persuade the ICC to open a full investigation "as a matter of urgency" into the situation in east Jerusalem.

Protests and scuffles between demonstrators and Israeli police have erupted in recent days outside the Haram al-Sharif compound, which includes the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The site is venerated by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam, and by Jews as the most sacred site in Judaism.

But Israel closed the ultra-sensitive compound on Friday and Saturday, after an attack by an Arab Israeli on Friday left two Israeli police dead, as has triggered Palestinian fury by installing metal detectors at its entrances.