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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

ICC prosecutor issues warning on Bedouin village demolition

Israel's Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against plans to raze Khan Al Ahmar

Bedouin children walk past an Israeli army excavator in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank on October 16, 2018. AFP
Bedouin children walk past an Israeli army excavator in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank on October 16, 2018. AFP

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor issued a warning on Wednesday that if Israel goes ahead and destroys a Palestinian Bedouin village in the West Bank that it could constitute a war crime.

Israel's Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against plans to demolish the village, Khan Al Ahmar.

The Palestinians are waging a campaign to stop Israel’s planned demolition, with hundreds taking to the village to prevent bulldozers moving in. Israel has yet to enforce the demolition but Palestinians say they are seeking to connect several West Bank settlements to cut occupied East Jerusalem off from the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Thursday called on the Bedouin residents of the small West Bank village of Khan Al Ahmar to “disrupt” the expected demolition of their community.

Officials in Ramallah view the latest demolition attempt as another blow in a long line of moves by an Israeli government emboldened by the Trump administration.

The US President has relocated the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, cut all funding to the United Nations refugee agency and slashed aid to East Jerusalem hospitals that serve sick Palestinians.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a written statement that "evacuation by force now appears imminent".

She added: "It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes" under the Rome Statute treaty that established the ICC.

Israel says Khan Al Ahmar was built illegally and has offered to resettle its residents a few miles away. Palestinians and other critics say the demolition aims to displace Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlement expansion.

The ICC has been conducting a preliminary inquiry since 2015 in the Palestinian territories, including Israel's settlement policy and crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. The investigation is also looking at Hamas rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilian population centers.

Israel is not a member of the court and does not accept its jurisdiction. However, Israeli forces could face charges if they are suspected of committing crimes on Palestinian territories as the court has accepted the "State of Palestine" as a member.

Her statement is significant as Israel fears being censured in such international arenas and the punishments, although unlikely to be enforced, that will hang over its politicians and service members.

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Ms Bensouda's written statement also said she is "alarmed by the continued violence, perpetrated by actors on both sides, at the Gaza border with Israel". There have been weeks of escalating violence along the border.

Her statement comes as tensions continue to flare between Israel and the leaders of the coastal enclave. Israel has killed more than 200 Palestinians in weekly protests against its crippling siege of the territory. It responded to a rocket fired from Gaza on Wednesday morning with 20 strikes that killed at least one Palestinian.

Egypt and the UN are working to calm the situation and negotiate a long-term truce between the two sides that have fought three wars since 2008. A high-level Egyptian delegation on Wednesday held urgent talks with Gaza's Hamas rulers as the pre-dawn flare-up in violence appeared to be pushing the region towards another conflagration between the bitter enemies. But by late Wednesday, there were signs that the situation was calming down.

But Hamas says protests will not stop while Israel’s siege continues. Israel says it will continue to impose restrictions while the rallies go on. It has cut a naval blockade to three miles and stopped fuel deliveries from entering the strip.

The movement and the allied Islamic Jihad group condemned the rocket attack and said neither bore responsibility.

“We reject all irresponsible attempts that try to change the direction and sabotage the Egyptian efforts, including the overnight firing of the rocket,” they said. “At the same time, we emphasise we are ready to confront the Israeli aggression.”