Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Palestinians make ICC overtures

Piece of suspected white phosphorus fired at UN centre in Gaza
Israel admits using white phosphorus in Gaza, but says it was used legally

International Criminal Court officials are considering an application by the Palestinian Authority that could allow it to investigate war crimes in Gaza.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of breaking the laws of war during its recent 22-day offensive in Gaza.

The PA hopes recognition of the court's jurisdiction will allow it to investigate allegations. Israel does not recognise the ICC's jurisdiction.

The ICC's founding statute says only states can recognise its jurisdiction.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said it could take some time to decide whether the Palestinian Authority was legally able to make this move.

The court has made public a letter from Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Khashan recognising the authority of the ICC - the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo
What is a state in international law, in particular in the Gaza territory - that is the discussion
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo
"My work now is to analyse if this is in accordance with the law," Mr Moreno-Ocampo said.

Human rights groups have called for international investigation of alleged war crimes during the conflict by both Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he had received 150 separate communications alleging war crimes during the Gaza conflict.

Some analysts said the Palestinian plan was unlikely to succeed because the ICC is only open to states and the PA could not unilaterally recognise its authority.

"Who is the state in Gaza?" Mr Moreno-Ocampo was quoted saying.

"What is a state in international law, in particular in the Gaza territory - that is the discussion. It is a complicated discussion."

If the prosecutor accepts Palestinian jurisdiction, he must then determine whether war crimes were been committed in Gaza and whether national criminal proceedings had been launched.

If not, the court could authorise an official investigation.

Israel's military tactics came under intense scrutiny as evidence emerged of the high numbers of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza.

Among complaints made by human rights groups were accusations of indiscriminate firing and the use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas.

There was no immediate Israeli response to the announcement at the Hague-based ICC.

Israel admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but said it did not break international law in doing so. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the state would keep serving soldiers "safe from any tribunal".

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