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Palestinians Deliver Accusations of Israeli War Crimes to Hague Court

PARIS — Palestinian leaders delivered files documenting what they say are Israeli war crimes on Thursday at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, broadening a new front in the Middle East conflict.

The files include descriptions of military operations throughout the occupied territories and in particular last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian spokesmen said. One set of papers covers killings of civilians and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, while another deals with what Palestinians consider to be Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which could meet the definition of war crimes.

The long-expected move carried far greater symbolic value than it did legal weight. The Palestinian papers are not considered criminal evidence, but will be treated as part of the fact gathering by the court’s chief prosecutor, who is continuing an examination she began in January to decide if there is a strong enough case to open a criminal investigation.

For the Palestinians, though, it was another step on a long and bloodied road to advance their push for independence and a crucial part of their drive to hold l Israel accountable, before an international court, for its decades-long military occupation of lands the Palestinians claim for a state of their own.

Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Palestinians had struggled for years in international forums to reach the International Criminal Court. “Whoever says that the Palestinians are trying to politicize the I.C.C. are in fact trying to deny the Palestinians a very basic right to justice,” he said. “We are showing our seriousness to support a preliminary investigation that has already started.”

Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, said by telephone that she had met with the Palestinian foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, and other members of his group for close to 45 minutes in her office as they delivered their information. She declined to evaluate the Palestinian documents. “At this stage it is simply information to assist my work,” she said. “I promised to look at it very carefully.”

Palestinian spokesmen have described the information presented as “general in nature” but put together by technical teams who were charged with parsing how each situation violated international law.

Asked about the settlements, an issue that has not yet come before the court in other cases, Ms. Bensouda said, “The settlements will definitely be part of this examination phase.”

The  International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, in 2012.

Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times

The prosecutor declined to say how much time she still needed to decide whether she would open a criminal investigation, a step that requires agreement from a panel of judges. “There is no timeline for a preliminary investigation,” she said. “It will be difficult for me to estimate.”

But lawyers following the court believe that she will not wade quickly into one of the Middle East’s oldest and most intractable conflicts. Some trials before the court have faltered and even failed because the prosecution was overconfident and had not built a sufficiently strong case.

Another factor complicating the Palestinian case is Israel’s refusal to cooperate with an investigation, which is likely to make access for any criminal investigators difficult if not impossible. Egypt, the only other port of entry to Palestinian lands, has also not provided access for commissions of inquiry. Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the Palestinians’ latest move as a “provocation and an attempt to manipulate the I.C.C.”

”We hope that the prosecutor won’t fall into the trap,” he said.

Ms. Bensouda said she had “consistently” called for Israel’s cooperation but had received no response. “But this will not stop my office from going ahead,” she said. Israeli leaders have repeatedly said the court will be biased and Israel will use its own courts to deal with any perceived crimes.

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(via NY Times)