Palestinians ask ICC for ‘immediate’ probe against Israel

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Khan Yunis on May 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018

Palestinians ask ICC for ‘immediate’ probe against Israel

THE HAGUE: The Palestinian foreign minister asked the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to open an “immediate investigation” into alleged Israeli “crimes” committed against the Palestinian people.

The step was sure to worsen the already troubled relations between the internationally backed Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Peace talks have been frozen for over four years, and contacts between the two sides are minimal.

Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he submitted the “referral” to the court during a meeting with the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

The referral sought an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since the state of Palestine accepted the ICC's jurisdiction in 2014, he said.

This includes Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as the recent round of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli fire killed over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border, Malki added.

“There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians,” Malki said. “This referral is Palestine's test to the international mechanism of accountability and respect for international law.”

The ICC has been conducting a preliminary probe since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel's settlement policy and crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday's referral could speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown investigation that could ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking Israelis.

The move comes with Israeli-Palestinian relations at their lowest point in years in the aftermath of the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and the recent bloodshed on the Gaza border.

Israel has said it was defending its border and accused Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group using the unrest to carry out attempted attacks and of using civilians as human shields.

In response to Tuesday's move at the ICC, Israel said it took a “severe view” of the Palestinian request, calling it a “cynical” and “absurd” step. It accused the Palestinians of violent incitement against Israel and exploiting women and children as human shields. It also said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the case because Israel is not a member of the court.

“Israel expects the ICC and its prosecutor not to yield to Palestinian pressure and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate,” the Israeli statement said.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens can be charged by the court if they are suspected of committing crimes on the territory or against a national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized “Palestine” as a member state.

While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.

The Palestinians appear to have an especially strong case in the matter of settlements. In 2004, the United Nations' highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, ruled in an advisory opinion that the settlements breached international law.

In late 2016, the UN Security Council also declared the settlements to be illegal.

Over 600,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories sought by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Under international law it is illegal to transfer populations out of or into occupied territory.

Israel claims east Jerusalem as an inseparable part of its capital — though its annexation is not international recognized.

Israel claims the West Bank is not occupied because it was captured from Jordan, not the Palestinians, and Jordan does not make a claim to the territory.

Since the Palestinians never ruled the West Bank, Israel says this territory is disputed and its final status should be resolved in negotiations. It also claims that settlements can be torn down and therefore do not prejudice the final status of the territory. It notes that in the case of Gaza, for instance, it uprooted all settlements there when it withdrew in 2005. Israel also captured Gaza in the 1967 war.

While the Gaza withdrawal removed some 8,000 settlers, the much larger population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move.


US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 50 min 36 sec ago

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.