ICC Rejects Palestine Request To Investigate 2008-2009 Gaza War

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor-general at the International Criminal Court, on Tuesday rejected a Palestinian bid to open an investigation into cases related to the 2008-09 Gaza war, saying that the request could not be considered as Palestine is not a member state of the United Nations.

"Palestine has been recognized as a state in bilateral relations by more than 130 governments and by certain international organizations, including United Nation bodies. However, the current status granted to Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly is that of 'observer,' not as a 'non-member state,' " a statement issued by the ICC prosecutor's office said Tuesday.

"In instances where it is controversial or unclear whether an applicant constitutes a 'state', it is the practice of the secretary general to follow or seek the General Assembly's directives on the matter. This is reflected in General Assembly resolutions, which provide indications of whether an applicant is a 'state,' the statement added.

In response to the ICC Prosecutor General's decision, Israeli Foreign Ministry said: "While Israel welcomes the decision on the lack of the ICC jurisdiction, it has reservations regarding some of the legal pronouncements and assumptions in the prosecutor's statements."

The development came three years after the Palestinian Authority (PA) lodged a declaration with the ICC in January 2009, following Israel's 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip. In the declaration, the PA unilaterally recognized ICC's jurisdiction "for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the authors and accomplices of crimes committed on the territory of Palestine since July 1, 2002."

The Hague-based ICC is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC was set up in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes court after the adoption of its founding statute at a Rome conference in July 1998.

Israel was involved in a 3-week-long offensive against the Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008 December in response to continued rocket fire into southern Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza. The war was was finally halted after 22 days with separate unilateral cease-fire declarations by Israel and Hamas, the group that controls Gaza Strip.

Though Palestinians claim that over 1,400 civilians in the Gaza Strip were killed in the conflict, Israeli army says its investigations revealed that only 1,116 Palestinians were killed in the three-week long offensive.

The alleged war crimes committed during the 22-day conflict was the subject of an UN investigation headed by former South African judge Richard Goldstone. The UN team had concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Israeli security forces and Hamas militants during the Gaza offensive.

Although the Palestine Authority made a formal request with the UN Security Council in September 2011 to grant full membership for a Palestine state with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, the bid failed to get enough votes in the 15-member UNSC and was subsequently dropped. Nevertheless, Palestine was later admitted as a member-state to the UNESCO despite objections from Israel and the US.

Palestinians believe that a full UN membership would allow them to take Israel to the International Criminal Court and other international forums over issues like building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) currently has an observer status at the UN.

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