Israeli Bombing Intensifies in Gaza as Does Push for ICC 'War Crimes' Inquiry

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Israeli Bombing Intensifies in Gaza as Does Push for ICC 'War Crimes' Inquiry

Hamas signs off on Palestinian efforts to join International Criminal Court as international legal experts demand accountability

Smoke and flames are seen during what witnesses said was an explosion caused by an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City August 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Ezz Zanon)

The push to engage the International Criminal Court in an investigation into possible war crimes by Israel for it military attacks on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip is gaining steam among Palestinian political factions as well as members of the international legal community.

On Friday, an international coalition of legal advocacy organizations wrote to the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, urging her to initiate an investigation into serious crimes committed by Israeli forces during it ongoing military operation against Palestinians living in Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge.

And on Saturday—as Israeli airstrikes and bombing appeared to intensify once again—Hamas made it known that it will now support an effort by the Palestinian Authority to formally join the ICC.

Legal Groups Send Letter to ICC Urging an Investigation

The legal organizations which sent the letter on Friday—including the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Arab Lawyers Union, and the American Association of Jurists—argue that “Israel’s clearly disproportionate use of force against the 1.8 million residents of Gaza appears to have little to do with any claim of security, but seems to be calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians." The groups also believe that the U.S. government and others that may have given military support or assistance to Israel throughout the operation should also be considered legitimate targets of the inquiry.

“In light of the mounting evidence about Israel's committing of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the people of Gaza," stated NLG president Azadeh Shahshahani, "it is incumbent upon the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation into these crimes as well as the US government's aiding and abetting of them through its military aid.”

The letter (pdf) lists the following war crimes, and cites supporting factual allegations for each crime:

-willful killing (over 2,000 Palestinians, 80% civilians)

-willfully causing great suffering or serious injury (wounding nearly 10,000 Palestinians, 2,200 children)

-unlawful, wanton and unjustified extensive destruction and appropriation of property (tens of thousands of Palestinians lost homes, severe damage to infrastructure)

-willful deprivation of fair trial rights (450 Palestinians held without charge or trial); -intentional attacks against civilians or civilian objects or humanitarian vehicles, installations and personnel (bombing of numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances, mosques)

-intentionally launching unjustified attacks, knowing they will kill or injure civilians, damage civilian objects, or cause long-term and severe damage to the natural environment (use of ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations,” as defined in UN Human Rights Council [Goldstone] Report)

According to Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the NLG, "It remains to be seen whether the ICC will exercise jurisdiction in such a case since neither Israel nor the United States is a party to the Rome Statute. But if the ICC determines that Palestine can accede to the Rome Statute, the ICC could take jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israelis and Americans in Palestinian territory."

Hamas joins Palestinian effort to join ICC

Hamas, the military and political power that controls the Gaza Strip, has become the latest Palestinian faction to officially support a possible attempt by the Palestinian Authority to join the International Criminal Court.

Officials with Hamas acknowledged their decision on Saturday and the petition—if approved by the PA and accepted by the ICC—could pave the way for war crimes charges to be brought against Israel for its ongoing military attack on the besieged Gaza Strip that has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 people, of which the United Nations estimates more than 1,500 were civilians, including hundreds of children.

According to the Ma'an News Agency:

"Hamas signed the document which (Palestinian) president (Mahmoud Abbas) put forth as a condition that all factions approve, before he goes to sign the Rome Statute, which paves the way for Palestine's membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC)," Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzouq wrote on his Facebook page.

The Palestinian declaration came after two days of talks in Qatar between Abbas and Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal, whose movement is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP that the Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful force in Gaza, "is currently the only Palestinian faction that has not signed" the document.

"They are studying the possibility of signing," he added.

According to Erakat, "the document calls on president Abbas to sign the Rome Statute to join the ICC, and indicates all the signatories assume responsibility for this membership."

Israel has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute.

The Guardian reports:

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 supported 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, said on Saturday 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 phone interview from Qatar. "These rockets are meant to stop Israeli attacks and it is well known that Israel initiated this war and previous wars."

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency on Saturday, over 460,000 Palestinians—a full one-fourth of the total population of the Gaza Strip—are now internally displaced. The majority of these people and their families, an estimated 314,000 Palestinians, have sought refuge in 84 UNRWA administered schools that have now become emergeny shelters.

"The number of internally-displaced people seeking shelter in our installations as a result of the conduct of hostilities is unprecedented in our history," the agency announced. Adding, "There are no indications the military escalation in Gaza will come to an end soon."

Death toll rises in Saturday attacks

Israeli airstrikes against Gaza continued with additional casualties reported on Saturday. According to Agence France-Presse:

Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at a 12-story apartment tower in downtown Gaza City on Saturday, collapsing the building, sending a huge fireball into the sky and wounding at least 22 people, including 11 children, witnesses and Palestinian officials said.

Israel has launched some 5,000 airstrikes against Gaza in nearly seven weeks of fighting with Hamas, but Saturday's strike marked the first time an entire high-rise was toppled.

The explosion shook nearby buildings.

Gaza police say Israeli aircraft fired a warning missile at the roof of the tower at dusk, followed five minutes later by two missiles with explosives.

Ayman Sahabani, the head of the emergency room at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, said at least 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women.

The leveling of the tower was a further sign of escalation following a breakdown of Egyptian-brokered cease-fire talks and the collapse of a temporary truce earlier this week.

And Ma'an recounted others strikes that resulted in other deaths and injuries:

Four Palestinians were killed on Saturday afternoon and dozens injured as Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip continued into its 47th day, as fears grew that Israel was planning to intensify its assault a day after a child was killed in mortar fire in southern Israel.

The deaths in Israeli airstrikes brought the total number of deaths in Gaza on Saturday to 12, including five members of one family, and the total death toll since the beginning of Israel's Operation Protective Edge to 2,105.

Spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health Ashraf al-Qidra said that a 10-year-old Palestinian named Hussein Ahmad and his mother Nisreen Ahmad were killed and two others injured in an airstrike that hit a house in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza Strip.

The body of Suheir Abu Mdein was also recovered from under rubble in Deir al-Balah.

Witnesses told Ma'an that an airstrike hit the house of Abu Anwar Saliha near Yaffa mosque.

Earlier, 64-year-old Muhammad Sabir al-Ijlah was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Juhr al-Dik in the northeastern Gaza Strip that also injured seven others.

Additionally, medical sources said a man was killed and several others were injured by Israeli airstrikes in al-Jneina neighborhood in Rafah in the south. Another unidentified man was killed in the central Gaza Strip in an air strike, while Salah Isleim succumbed to wounds he sustained three weeks ago in Khan Younis.

The deaths on Saturday began with the killing of five Palestinians including three children in an airstrike on the home of the Abu Dahrouj family in the al-Zawayda neighborhood of the central Gaza Strip.

Al-Qidra named the victims as 4-year-old Abdullah Hayil Abu Dahdouh, 49-year-old Hayat Abed Rabbo Abu Dahdouh, 27-year-old Huda Muhammad Abu Dahdouh, 26-year-old Hayil Shihdeh Abu Dahdouh and 3-year-old Hadi Hayil Abu Dahdouh.

Israel has killed more than 80 Palestinians since it resumed its assault on Gaza on Tuesday as a temporary ceasefire fell apart amid an impasse in indirect negotiations in Cairo.

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