A decision to challenge Israel on alleged war crimes at the ICC could put immense pressure on the Palestinian Authority.
A delegation from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories this week to “promote better understanding” about its work, stopping short of declaring an investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict, the ICC’s chief prosecutor has said.
The six-day trip beginning on Wednesday will be the first to the region by officials from the prosecutor’s office at the ICC since the Gaza war, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.
The team will travel to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement, for “meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials at the working levels”.
Neither will the delegation undertake site visits, or assess the adequacy of the respective legal systems to deal with crimes that fall within ICC jurisdiction
But she made no mention of whether the delegation would travel to the Gaza Strip and stressed that the visit was not aimed at investigating any allegations.
At the request of the Palestinians, Bensouda’s office has opened an initial probe into alleged war crimes by both sides during the July-August 2014 conflict.
She said the visit was “not linked” to her preliminary investigation which she said “is ongoing and is following its normal course”.
“The purpose of this visit will be to undertake outreach and education activities with a view to raising awareness about the ICC and, in particular, about the work of the office,” Bensouda said.
The delegation from her office “will not engage in evidence collection in relation to any alleged crimes,” she added.
“Neither will the delegation undertake site visits, or assess the adequacy of the respective legal systems to deal with crimes that fall within ICC jurisdiction.”
The 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza’s rulers Hamas and other factions killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children, according to UN figures.
On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, mostly soldiers.
Human rights organisations have criticised Israel for closing an investigation into allegations of war crimes by its troops during its military offensive in Gaza.
Rights groups have accused Israel of using force indiscriminately, while Hamas is accused of firing rockets at Israeli civilian population centres. Israel has blamed Hamas for using Palestinians as human shields.
The Palestinians formally asked the ICC last year to investigate the Jewish state, which is not a party to the treaty that governs the court, the world’s only permanent war crimes court, for alleged war crimes.
Israel vehemently opposes any ICC investigation, but officials have said they will cooperate with the body to convince it of the competence of the Jewish state’s own court.