Palestinians urge snap ICC probe into 'Israeli war crimes'
The Palestinian Authority [PA] foreign minister on Tuesday called on the International Criminal Court [ICC] "to open an immediate investigation" into allegations of "war crimes and apartheid" in the occupied territories.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki met for an hour with the ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the tribunal in The Hague, "to refer the situation in Palestine" to her office.
It was an "important and historic step" for the Palestinian people "who have suffered for generations the consequences of crimes committed with impunity by Israeli officials", he told reporters afterwards.
The ICC launched a preliminary probe into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in 2015.
And despite a visit to the region, it has yet to move to the next stage and open a full-blown investigation which could possibly lead to charges being brought.
Maliki said there was "insurmountable" evidence of crimes, adding that those "responsible... must be held accountable for their actions without further delay".
The meeting at the ICC comes after more than 62 Palestinians protesting the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem were killed by Israeli snipers last week.
Maliki said the Palestinian move was "due to the intensification of the rate and the severity of the crimes against our people" including the targeting of "unarmed protestors in the Gaza Strip".
The Palestinian referral highlighted the issue of settlements, which the delegation termed in a statement "the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods".
"Israel maintains, expands and protects the settlement regime by committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people," the statement added.
The PA joined the ICC in January 2015 signing up to the Rome Statute, which underpins the world's only permanent war crimes court.
'Violence must stop'
Israel is not a member of the ICC, however, and the Israeli foreign ministry on Tuesday said it "takes a severe view" of the referral, which it called "a cynical step without legal validity".
"The ICC lacks jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, since Israel is not a member of the court and because the Palestinian Authority is not a state," the Israeli ministry added in a statement.
It called on Bensouda "not to yield to Palestinian pressure" and to deny "Palestinian efforts to politicise the court".
But rights groups urged the prosecutor to push forward with opening what would be a complicated full-blown investigation.
"The recent killings in Gaza only underscore the importance of the ICC prosecutor acting to address the pervasive climate of impunity in Palestine," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch.
Bensouda vowed last week that she was watching the unrest in Gaza closely and would "take any action warranted" to prosecute crimes.
"The violence must stop," she told AFP, urging "all those concerned to refrain from further escalating this situation and the Israel Defence Forces to avoid excessive use of force".