Israel to tell ICC it does not recognise court's authority


FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel will tell the International Criminal Court it does not recognise the authority of the tribunal, which is planning to investigate possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Netanyahu, after meeting with senior ministers and government officials ahead of a Friday deadline to respond to an ICC notification letter, said Israel would not cooperate with the inquiry, but it will send a response.

"It will be made clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself," he said in a statement. The response will also say Israel "completely rejects" the assertion that it was carrying out any war crimes.

Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC and therefore by definition not a party to the court.

ICC prosecutors, who named groups on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides as possible perpetrators, said letters had been sent on March 9 to all parties concerned, giving them a month to inform the court if they were conducting their own investigations of the alleged crimes and want an ICC inquiry deferred while that is ongoing.

The Palestinians said they would cooperate with the ICC, whose inquiry pertains to alleged war crimes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian Islamists took control after Israel withdrew in 2005.

"We sent the response to the ICC," said Omar Awadallah, a senior official in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.

"Full cooperation with the ICC will continue from the State of Palestine, as a member state of the court, to achieve justice for the victims of the Palestinian people and hold Israel accountable for its crimes,” Awadallah said.

In a speech on Wednesday marking Israeli observances of the Holocaust, Netanyahu deemed the ICC inquiry an "absurdity".

"The Hague court's founding was inspired by the Nuremberg tribunal, which tried Nazi war criminals after World War Two," he said. "But a body set up to defend human rights became a body that, effectively, protects those who trample on human rights."

He was referring to Palestinian militant group Hamas, against which Israel fought a 2014 war in Gaza and which an ICC prosecutor said may also have perpetrated crimes.

(Reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Dan Grebler)

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