Palestinian FM positive on ceasefire, renews ICC talks

AFP , Tuesday 5 Aug 2014

Riad al-Malki
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki (C) leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on Tuesday said he was optimistic the latest ceasefire in Gaza will hold, even as Palestinians renewed efforts to haul Israelis before the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

A 72-hour truce took hold in the shattered enclave earlier on Tuesday after a Cairo-brokered deal was accepted by both Hamas and Israel, ending 29 days of heavy fighting which has claimed more than 1,800 lives.

"We expect the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond," Malki told reporters at a press conference in The Hague, where he earlier met the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

"We have heard that Israel has really committed itself to withdrawing... but it really depends on Israel and the seriousness of the Israeli side," Malki said.

Malki's meeting with Bensouda was to discuss the latest steps needed for Palestine to sign up to the court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

The Palestinians in 2009 asked the ICC's prosecutor's office to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli military in Gaza in 2008-2009.

But so far there has been no probe as Palestine is not an ICC member state and its status as a country is uncertain in some international institutions.

Palestine however in late November 2012 obtained non-member observer status at the United Nations, opening the door for an ICC investigation.

The Palestinian leadership has since been under intense pressure from various countries including the US, Britain and France to desist from signing up for an ICC probe.

But Malki said the latest deadly confrontation between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas has forced the Palestinians to revisit the issue of ICC membership.

If Palestine is signed up, the ICC's prosecutor could have the jurisdiction to launch a preliminary investigation into atrocities committed in Gaza, Malki said.

"Israel has left us with no other option than to take this approach," he said, referring to "atrocities" committed in Gaza.

"We must do everything in our power to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity," he said.

The move however still has to be approved by all sides of the Palestinian leadership including the powerful Hamas which rules Gaza.

Asked whether Palestinians could also be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity should the court investigate, Malki said the Palestinian leadership was ready to accept the court's findings.

"If we ask for an investigation, we are also ready to accept the consequences," he said.

ICC prosecutor Bensouda's office said in a short statement the court did not have jurisdiction over alleged crimes as Palestine has not signed up to the ICC's Rome Statute.

Neither has it received any "official document from Palestine indicating the acceptance of ICC jurisdiction or requesting the prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged crimes following the November 2012 UN General Assembly resolution," the statement added.

The meeting came at the Palestinians' request and was "for the foreign minister to seek clarification on the different mechanisms for a state to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC," Bensouda's office said.

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