Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Hamas backs Palestinian bid to join ICC

TIT FOR TAT:If the Palestinian president decides to join the International Criminal Court, both Hamas and Israel could become the target of war crimes investigations

AP, GAZA CITY

Hamas has signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), two senior officials in the group said yesterday. Such a step could expose Israel — as well as Hamas — to war crimes investigations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has debated for months whether to join the court, a step that would transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile and could also strain his ties with the US.

The decision by Hamas to sign a document in support of a court bid removes a major obstacle, though it is not clear if Abbas will go ahead. A hesitant Abbas has said he would not make any decision without the written backing of all Palestinian factions. Last month, he obtained such support from all factions in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Hamas, which is not a PLO member, has said it would study the idea. Its decision to support the court option came after almost seven weeks of a deadly crossborder war with Israel and several failed ceasefire efforts.

Since the war erupted on July 8, more than 2,090 Palestinians have been killed, including close to 500 children, and about 100,000 Gazans have been left homeless, according to UN figures and Palestinian officials. Israel lost 64 soldiers and four civilians, including a 4-year-old boy killed by a mortar shell on Friday.

Hamas also executed 18 alleged collaborators in Gaza City on Friday.

During the war, Gaza militants have fired more than 3,800 rockets and mortar shells at Israel, while Israel launched about 5,000 airstrikes at Gaza, the military said. Israel has said it has targeted sites linked to militants, including rocket launchers and weapons. UN and Palestinian officials say three-fourths of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.

Yesterday, an airstrike on a house in central Gaza killed two women, two children and a man, according to medics at the Red Crescent. Six strikes also hit a house in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza, causing severe damage and wounding at least five people, Gaza police said.

Since the start of the Gaza war, Abbas has come under growing domestic pressure to pave the way for a possible war crimes investigation of Israel. Last month, he told senior PLO officials and leaders of smaller political groups he would only go ahead if Hamas supports the bid.

If Abbas were to turn to the court, Hamas could be investigated for indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel since 2000. Israel could come under scrutiny for its actions in the current Gaza war, as well as decades of settlement building on war-won lands the Palestinians seek for a state.

Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, yesterday said that Hamas was not concerned about becoming a target of a war crimes investigation and urged Abbas to act “as soon as possible.”

“We are under occupation, under daily attack and our fighters are defending their people,” he said in a telephone interview from Qatar. “These rockets are meant to stop Israeli attacks and it is well known that Israel initiated this war and previous wars.”

However, it is not clear if such arguments would hold up in court. After the last major round of Israel-Hamas fighting more than five years ago, a UN factfinding team said both Israel and Hamas violated the rules of war by targeting civilians — Hamas by firing rockets at Israel.

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