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/ Source: NBC News

THE HAGUE — The Palestinian Authority joined the International Criminal Court on Wednesday, a move deeply opposed by Israel.

The Palestinians, who became the 123rd member of the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, said they would give prosecutors ample time to complete an initial inquiry into last year's Gaza conflict, but would formally request an investigation if it took too long.

"If it takes more (time) than expected ... we will ... issue a referral," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Reuters in an interview, adding that his government would not hesitate to hand over Palestinian suspects if the court asked for them.

Accession to the court is part of the Palestinians' campaign to win global recognition of statehood, but Israel says such unilateral moves damage prospects for a negotiated solution to the decades-old conflict.

Palestinian membership gives the court's prosecutors the right to examine war crimes committed by any party on its territory after April 1, a development contested by Israel, which is not an ICC member and has no plans not cooperate.

"I don’t understand the opposition unless (Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin) Netanyahu fears the court and what it might do," Maliki said. "If he believes his army is the most moral army in the world ... then he should not fear our accession to the court."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting with the Palestinian Executive Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 19.THAER GHANAIM / Palestinian Authority via AFP - Getty Images
- Reuters