Sun, Dec 3, 2023 11:19 AM
By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court rounded off a historic first visit to Israel and Ramallah by posting video and written messages on Sunday, saying that a probe by the court into possible crimes by Hamas militants and Israeli forces “is a priority for my office.”
In a video message from Ramallah, where he met with top Palestinian leaders, Prosecutor Karim Khan said the investigation that was launched in 2021 is "moving forward at pace, with rigor, with determination and with an insistence that we act not on emotion but on solid evidence.”
There have been widespread claims of breaches of international law by Hamas and Israeli forces since war erupted after the deadly Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and other militants that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel. Around 240 people were taken hostage.
The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said Saturday that the overall death toll in the strip since the start of the war had surpassed 15,200. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but it said 70% of the dead were women and children. It said more than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.
Khan said in a written statement issued after his visit that he witnessed “scenes of calculated cruelty” at locations of the Oct. 7 attacks. During the visit, he spoke to family members of Israeli victims and called for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages taken by Hamas and other militants.
“The attacks against innocent Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 represent some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, crimes which the ICC was established to address,” Khan said in his written statement, adding that he and his prosecutors are working “to hold those responsible to account.”
In a statement released by the Forum for Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the families thanked Khan “for the extraordinary decision to come and stand by the families in the aftermath of the horrors perpetrated by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7 and the continued detention of hostages. We expect him to work to bring Hamas terrorists to justice for crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Khan said he is ready to engage with local prosecutors in line with the principle of complementarity — the ICC is a court of last resort set up to prosecute war crimes when local courts cannot or will not take action. Israel is not a member state of the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction.
Khan also visited Palestinian officials in Ramallah, including President Mahmoud Abbas, and spoke to Palestinian victims. He said of the war in Gaza that fighting in “densely populated areas where fighters are alleged to be unlawfully embedded in the civilian population is inherently complex, but international humanitarian law must still apply and the Israeli military knows the law that must be applied.”
He said that Israel “has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law. Credible allegations of crimes during the current conflict should be the subject of timely, independent examination and investigation.”
In his video message, Khan also said that humanitarian aid must be allowed into Gaza.
“In Gaza, it is not acceptable — there’s no justification — for doctors to perform operations without light, for children to be operated upon without anesthetics," he said. "Imagine the pain of operations on children, on anybody, on any of us, without anesthetics. I also emphasized that Hamas must not divert any aid that’s given.”
Khan also expressed “profound concern” at what he called “the significant increase in incidents of attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.
“I emphasize, settler violence is unacceptable," he said in his video. "It’s something we are investigating. We have been investigating and we are accelerating investigations. No Israeli settler armed with an ideology and a gun can think it’s open season on Palestinians.”
Khan said he would seek to work with “all actors” in the conflict to “ensure that when action is taken by my office it is done on the basis of objective, verifiable evidence which can stand scrutiny in the courtroom and ensure that when we do proceed we have a realistic prospect of conviction.”
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war