Palestinian leaders poised to join ICC in order to pursue Israel for war crimes

06/08/2014 01:48

The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki

The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, said after meeting ICC officials that Israel had left him no choice but to seek accession to the court. Photograph: EPA

Palestinian political leaders are poised to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the aim of putting Israel in the dock on war crimes charges, officials said today.

"Israel has left us with no other option," Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, told reporters after meeting ICC officials in The Hague to discuss the implications of signing the Rome Statute. It would make the Palestinian state a member of the court with the authority to call for an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Palestinian Authority has asked Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to sign the accession document before it is formally presented, and officials say they now expect both organisations to agree.

The development came as Palestinian negotiators were due to meet the head of Egyptian military intelligence in Cairo to discuss a permanent ceasefire with Israel, after all sides observed a 72-hour truce that came in to force at 8am local time (0600 BST) on Tuesday.

Hamas launched a salvo of rockets minutes before the truce began, calling it revenge for Israel's "massacres". Israel's anti-missile system shot down one rocket over Jerusalem, police said. Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the West Bank. There were no casualties.

Israeli armour and infantry left Gaza ahead of the truce, and a military spokesman said their main goal of destroying cross-border tunnels had been completed. "Mission accomplished," the military tweeted.

The talks in Cairo follow a month of fighting during which 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, 64 Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai migrant worker were killed. Officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad reportedly left Gaza once the truce came into effect via the Rafah border crossing, after receiving assurances from Israel that they would not be targeted. Israeli security officials were expected in the Egyptian capital later on Tuesday or on Wednesday.

Israeli officials warned, however, that Hamas had exaggerated expectations of what it could achieve in the talks. Israel Radio reported that a Palestinian demand for the construction a port and airport in Gaza was not on Egypt's agenda.

The main Palestinian demand is for an end to the seven-year blockade of Gaza, which includes lifting restrictions on the movement of people and goods by opening the border crossings. Others are for the release of prisoners, starting reconstruction and ensuring fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles off Gaza's coast. Israel is insisting on an end to rocket fire and wider "demilitarisation".

Diplomats say they expect the Palestinian plan to join the ICC and set a war crimes investigation in motion to be one of the bargaining chips on the table in Cairo. Palestinian officials claim that, for the first time, they have achieved unity on the issue among the political and armed factions, paving the way for ICC membership.

"I think it is going to happen," Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian diplomat, said. Erekat said he had shown the documentation to Hamas's political leader, Khaled Meshal, a few days ago in Doha. "He asked to study it for a couple of days. There are still some legal aspects and procedures that have to be agreed."

The ICC prosecutor issued a statement on Tuesday stating that the court did not have jurisdiction on Palestinian territory without a formal Palestinian request. Palestinian Authority negotiators have taken a copy of the accession document to ceasefire talks in Cairo in the hope that the Hamas and PIJ representatives will sign it there.

If they do, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, would add his own signature, confirming membership of the ICC. He would then issue a declaration calling for an investigation.

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