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The New Arab Staff

ICC gives Israel a month to seek deferral of war crimes probe

The probe is expected to focus on the 2014 Gaza war [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 March, 2021

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If the court is satisfied with the process, it could postpone or even cancel the investigation and instead let Israel run its own investigation with ICC supervision.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Thursday it had sent formal notices to Israel and the Palestinian Authority about its impending investigation into possible war crimes, giving them a month to seek deferral by proving they are carrying out their own investigations.

Earlier this month, the court issued a decision to look into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian armed groups following a request by the Palestinians, who were granted a non-member observer status in the UN General Assembly and joined the court in 2015.

Israel has three weeks to respond to the letter, dated March 9, by detailing its own efforts to investigate potential crimes and hold its citizens accountable. If the court is satisfied with the process, it could postpone or even cancel the investigation and instead let Israel run its own with ICC supervision.

The probe is expected to focus on the 2014 Gaza war, Israel’s crackdown on border protests in Gaza and Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank. It will also look at militant rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

Israel says it routinely investigates wrongdoing by its own troops and could pursue this regarding the conflict in Gaza. However, investigating the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, which is an official state policy going back decades, could pose a challenge for the Israeli administration.

Read also: Biden administration planning to 'reset US relations' with Palestinians following Trump-era breakdown

Since the office of the ICC Prosecutor announced last month its intention to push forward with an investigation, Israel has fiercely opposed the decision, accusing the court of bias. Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens could be subject to arrest abroad if warrants are issued.

The Palestinians oppose the ICC looking into rocket fire into Israel by Hamas, which rules Gaza. This action is viewed as self-defence by Palestinians, who are unlikely to seek a deferral by launching their own investigation.

The announcement of the possibility of deferral coincided with a meeting between Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, and ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in The Hague on Thursday, as part of ongoing collaboration with the court into the situation in Palestine.

Al-Maliki stressed the importance of accelerating investigations into crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territories and the importance of holding states accountable in accordance with international law.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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