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Palestinians Urge War Crimes Case Against Israel

MIKE CORDER   02/13/09 01:36 PM ET   AP

Gaza

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Palestinian leaders pressed prosecutors of the International Criminal Court on Friday to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes during the recent Gaza conflict.

Justice Minister Ali Khashan said crimes against Palestinians should not go unpunished.

Palestinians have been seeking "justice from the international community" since the day Israel was created in 1948, Khashan told reporters. "This is the moment" for them to act.

Israel launched a three-week offensive in December with the aim of ending years of Hamas rocket fire at southern Israel. The fighting left nearly 1,300 Palestinians dead, more than half of them civilians, according to Gaza officials. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians.

Whether a case can begin hinges on the validity of the Palestinian Authority's declaration last month recognizing the court's jurisdiction, since it does not represent a state. Israel does not accept the court's authority.

Israeli officials could not be reached for comment on Friday night, the start of the Jewish sabbath, but the Israel Foreign Ministry has in the past cited the court's own rules, which state it has jurisdiction only over sovereign states which accept its authority.

"The ICC charter is adhered to by sovereign states and the Palestinian Authority has not yet been recognized as one so it cannot be a member of the ICC," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said earlier this month, after Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Khashan wrote to the court, accepting its authority.

Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said the Palestinians want to create a precedent by initiating legal action for crimes against them.

Dozens of countries recognize a Palestinian state, he said. The Palestinians have no seat at the United Nations, but have long been accorded observer status and maintain a permanent U.N. mission.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said last week that it will likely take months before a decision is reached on whether a case can begin.

If the court decides it can investigate crimes in Gaza, Hamas also will likely be targeted by prosecutors for the deadly barrage of rockets it has unleashed on Israel.

Khashan conceded that Palestinian militants could be prosecuted. "We don't care about the nationality," he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority had not sought Hamas' blessing before approaching the court.

The Fatah organization which dominates the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, is a bitter rival of Hamas, which has governed Gaza since expelling Fatah's fighters in 2007.

"We are not going to ask permission from one faction or another," Khashan said.

Human Rights Watch has called for an international investigation into allegations of war crimes by both Israel and Hamas.

Moreno-Ocampo said last week that he has received 150 separate communications alleging war crimes during the Gaza conflict.

Al-Malki said the Palestinians can provide evidence to prosecutors if an investigation is launched.

"We have enough evidence to prove there is really a case," he said. "We expect the prosecutor really to take action."

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