Palestinians explore options for Israeli war crimes probe

Palestinians, with U.N. observer status, exploring options for seeking war crimes investigation of Israel

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki on Tuesday met with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to explore the possibility of seeking an investigation of Israel on suspicion of war crimes in the latest Gaza Strip violence.

In the meeting with Fatou Bensouda, Malki denounced the more than 1,800 deaths among Gaza residents, mostly civilians, as atrocities by the Israeli government, which has bombarded the Palestinian coastal enclave with more than 23,000 missiles and shells since launching an offensive July 8.

Israel has reported 67 deaths -- three civilians and 64 soldiers -- among its citizenry during the 4-week-old operation to rid Gaza of the tunnels and launch sites used by Hamas militants to fire rockets into Israeli territory. Israeli forces have blockaded Gaza and its 1.8 million residents for seven years. 

“Everything that has happened in the last 28 days is clear evidence of war crimes committed by Israel, amounting to crimes against humanity," Malki said at a news conference after the meeting in The Hague.

Israeli government officials did not comment publicly on the move, but some news media quoted unidentified officials as saying Israel also could make a case that it is the victim of atrocities by Hamas, which rules Gaza and rejects Israel's right to statehood.

Bensouda informed Malki that the court has no jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, which two years ago were granted non-state observer status at the United Nations. The entity hasn't yet signaled its desire to sign the court's founding treaty or accept its authority, the ICC reported on its website. Even if Palestinian Authority leaders were to undertake the process of joining the ICC, the United States has the power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to veto any investigation of its ally Israel.

A parallel action seeking a war crimes investigation of the recent Gaza violence has been launched by British lawyers and rights advocates, the Guardian newspaper reported.

"The initiation of an investigation would send a clear and unequivocal message to those involved in the commission of these crimes that the accountability and justice called for by the United Nations on the part of victims are not hollow watchwords," reads a letter sent to Bensouda seeking the probe. The letter was written by Kirsty Brimelow, head of the British bar association's human rights committee, according to the Guardian.

The British appeal for investigation called for review of both sides' actions in the conflict.

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