The Arab League has put forward a request to the United Nations, calling for an investigation into Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip.
Permanent representatives of the Cairo-based Arab League (AL) made an appeal to the UN General Assembly on Monday to “form an international committee to investigate Israeli crimes in the Gaza Strip and to set up a criminal court to try Israeli war criminals.”
With the death toll from the 23-day Israeli assault on Gaza standing above 1,300, pressure has been mounting on Israel for an independent inquiry into specific battleground incidents.
The use of controversial chemical white phosphorous shells, indiscriminate firing during the offensive in the densely-populated coastal sliver, the shelling of a UN school turned refugee camp, as well as the question as to whether other Israeli military tactics were in breach of humanitarian laws are among the issues Tel Aviv has been charged with.
The delegates from 22 Arab nations also announced that the league is set to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza to probe into allegations against Israel, including the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium munitions, the Egyptian MENA news agency said.
After reports of Israeli military tactics emerged as a cause for international concern, the United Nations secretary general called for a full investigation into Israeli actions during its war on Gaza.
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While touring the seaside Palestinian enclave on Jan 21, a visibly somber Ban Ki-moon said, “I have seen only a fraction of the damage. This is shocking and alarming.”
The pan-Arab bloc’s Secretary General Amr Moussa revealed that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor to the International Criminal Court (ICC), has been informed of the matter and that the suspected war crimes would soon be discussed at an international level.
The International Criminal Court, a treaty-based court located in The Hague, was created in 2002 to allow legal action against war criminals that committed offences after its inception.
However, The Hague has no jurisdiction over Israeli citizens, as Tel Aviv is not a signatory to the treaty which created the court.
During the Israeli offensive into Gaza, a senior UN official said the body’s humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the “highest levels” to be used as seen fit.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said hitting residential streets with shells that send shrapnel over a wide area is in itself “prima facie evidence of war crimes”.
Israel’s most prominent human rights organization, B’Tselem, for its part, has called on the attorney general in Jerusalem (al-Quds) to investigate suspected military crimes.
“Many of the targets seem not to have been legitimate military targets as specified by international humanitarian law,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem.
While there are growing calls for an international investigation, critics remain skeptical as to whether any such inquiry will take place, as Israel has previously blocked similar attempts with the support of the United States.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to protect any Israeli soldiers accused of war crimes in the Gaza Strip from prosecution overseas.
Speaking at a Sunday cabinet meeting, Olmert said, “The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza.”