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Israel condemns ICC decision to open Palestinian probe

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC's decision is "the essence of anti-Semitism" [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2021

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Israel fiercely condemned the ICC's decision to probe alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories.

The International Criminal Court's decision Wednesday to open an investigation in the Palestinian territories was fiercely condemned by Israel but applauded by the Palestinians as a "long-awaited" step towards justice.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a vocal critic of The Hague-based ICC, declared the Jewish state was "under attack" after prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the launch of a formal probe. 

"The ICC reached a decision which is the essence of anti-Semitism," Netanyahu said in the video posted on Twitter, echoing charges he levelled a month ago when the court ruled it had jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories.  

Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, a former Israeli army chief, blasted Bensouda's move as "morally bankrupt and legally flawed". 

"This is a political decision made by a prosecutor at the end of her term in an attempt to dictate her successor's priorities," Ashkenazi added.

Bensouda, who is due to be replaced by Karim Kahn in June, said there is a "reasonable basis" to believe crimes were committed by members of the Israel Defense Forces, Israeli authorities, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

An estimated 2,250 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, while 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the conflict. 

Ashkenazi vowed that "Israel will take every necessary measure to protect its citizens and soldiers from legal persecution." 

The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, welcomed the probe, insisting the "crimes committed by officials of the occupying power (Israel) against the Palestinian people are ongoing, systematic, and widespread."

'Legitimate' resistance

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and has maintained a crippling blockade of Gaza since 2007, the year Hamas took power.

The PA also urged all state parties to the ICC to "refrain from politicising these independent proceedings."

Hamas welcomed the court's decision, stressing its response against Israeli aggression "are legitimate under international and humanitarian law."

"Hamas stands ready to cooperate with any party willing to rehabilitate the Palestinian people and their victims, and to punish the occupation," it said. 

Israel is not an ICC member, but Palestine has been a state party to the court since 2015.

ICC judges paved the way for a war crimes investigation when they ruled a month ago that the court has jurisdiction over the situation due to Palestine's membership.

With Bensouda's mandate ending in June, the probe will be a first major test for her successor. 

"All eyes will also be on the next prosecutor Karim Khan to pick up the baton and expeditiously move forward," the associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, Balkees Jarrah, said in a statement. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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