Palestinians have welcomed the move which ICC says will be an independent and impartial probe into Israeli military actions in Gaza, Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and armed militant groups, “without fear or favour.”
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has said she has launched an investigation into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, plunging the court into the midst of one of the most fraught conflicts of the past half century.
Fatou Bensouda said in a statement on Wednesday that the probe will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.”
Bensouda said in 2019 there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in Gaza as well as Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
Following that assessment, she asked judges to rule on the extent of the court’s jurisdiction in the troubled region.
They did that last month, saying that the court’s jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Palestinians joined the court in 2015 and have long pushed for an investigation of Israel, which is not a member of the court.
The Palestinians asked the court to probe Israeli actions during its 2014 war against Palestinian militants in Gaza, as well as Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.
READ MORE: ICC clears way for probe in Israeli occupied Palestinian territories
In the past, Israeli officials have accused the court of overstepping its bounds, saying the Palestinians are not an independent sovereign state.
Officials say that Israel has been unfairly singled out and reject the allegations. They say military actions in Gaza were acts of self-defence and the status of the West Bank is disputed and must be resolved through negotiations.
📢 Statement of #ICC Prosecutor #FatouBensouda respecting an investigation of the Situation in #Palestine ⬇️ #justicemattershttps://t.co/G5Q5hvesJZ— Int'l Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) March 3, 2021
The investigation will likely also look into alleged crimes by Palestinian militants. Bensouda has said her probe would look into the actions of Hamas, which fired rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the 2014 war.
Bensouda said how prosecutors prioritise their work will be “determined in due time” based on constraints including the coronavirus pandemic, limited resources and their existing heavy workload.
“Such challenges, however, as daunting and complex as they are, cannot divert us from ultimately discharging the responsibilities that the Rome Statute places upon the Office,” she said, referring to the court’s founding treaty.
Palestinians welcome ICC move
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the International Criminal Court's decision to open a formal investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian Territories.
"This is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve," the PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Hamas spokesperson welcomed the ICC decision and defended its actions as “legitimate resistance.”
Israel condemned the ICC move.
"Israel will take every step necessary to protect its civilians and soldiers from legal persecution," Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement.
READ MORE: The ICC’s decision on Israel is a defeat for the politics of impunity