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International Crime Court prosecutor to open formal probe into war crimes in Palestinian Territories

"In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli," said Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-CONFLICT
An Israeli Merkava tank rolls back from the Gaza Strip to an army deployment near Israel's border in August 2014.Jack Guez / AFP via Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

THE HAGUE — The International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Wednesday her office will open a formal investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian Territories which will examine both sides in the conflict.

The decision comes after the court ruled on Feb. 5 that it has jurisdiction in the case, a move which prompted swift rejection from Washington and Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ruling.

"The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years," outgoing Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.

"In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides," Bensouda said.

"My office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized."

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2016.Peter dejong / Pool via Reuters file

Bensouda, who will be replaced by British prosecutor Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019 that "war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip". She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

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The next step will be to determine whether Israel or Palestinian authorities have investigations themselves and to assess those.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the court ruled on jurisdiction, he said: "When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure antisemitism."

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the prosecutor's investigation.

It 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.