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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Palestinians file ICC war crimes complaint over Israeli demolition plans

Israel is set to raze the Bedouin hamlet of Khan Al Ahmar in the West Bank

Protesters block the traffic on the highway passing near the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar. AP
Protesters block the traffic on the highway passing near the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar. AP

The Palestinians have filed a new complaint at the International Criminal Court against Israel just a day after the US closed the Palestinian mission in Washington and said it would protect its allies against any action at the international war crimes body.

The chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday that Ramallah has asked the ICC to probe Israel’s plans to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin hamlet of Khan Al Ahmar in the West Bank, where around 200 people live.

"The US threats against the ICC are a coup against the rules in the international system," he said.

"The Trump administration wants to dismantle the international order to ensure that it can stay above the laws and escape accountability."

He invited the ICC’s chief prosecutor to visit the village and meet with its representatives in a bid for the body to include Israel’s demolition plans in any war crimes investigation.

Khan Al Ahmar lies east of Jerusalem in the West Bank, the territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and is located near several large Israeli settlements and on the route towards the Dead Sea, increasing its strategic value.

Five European countries, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain, have called on Israel not to raze the village.

"The consequences a demolition and displacement would have on the residents of this community, including their children, as well as on the prospects of the two-state solution would be very serious," the countries said in a joint statement.

On September 5, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld an order to raze the village on grounds that it was built without the proper permits. Restrictions on action against the village lasts for seven days after the verdict so Israel could move to demolish at as soon as Wednesday.

Palestinians say it is virtually impossible for them to obtain Israeli permits to build in Area C of the West Bank, where the village is situated.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of seeking to demolish the village with the aim of replacing it with an Israel settlement. Jewish outposts across the West Bank hold more than 400,000 settlers. The majority of the international community deems them illegal under international law.

Israel has offered the village’s residents alternative locations for resettlement but they say they lie in unattractive areas, one near a sewage plant and another by a dump.

The Palestinian Authority has sought to raise several issues at the ICC, including continued Israeli settlement building, the Israeli military’s killing of civilians in the Gaza War and, now, the demolition of Khan Al Ahmar.

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But the US on Monday openly condemned the court as illegitimate. US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said it would use “any means necessary” to protect US interests and allies like Israel “from unjust prosecution” by the court.

The court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes in areas of the world where suspects may not face justice.

The Palestinians have cut all contacts with Washington, citing a series of decisions that it says favour Israel, including cutting all funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital in December, and failing to do more to stop Israeli construction in the West Bank.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki said on Tuesday the US President Donald Trump's decision to halt funding to UNRWA and East Jerusalem hospitals showed that the US administration is now carrying out an assault on the Palestinians.

"The US administration has begun to attack the Palestinian people and international law," Mr Malki said at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo convened to discuss the issue on Tuesday.

Another attack on the Palestinians came on Monday with the closure of their diplomatic mission in Washington.

The Palestinian envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, said his staffers have been given a month to pack up after the US punished them for what the State Department called the Palestinian leadership condemnation of “a US peace plan they have not yet seen”. He had already been recalled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in December last year following Mr Trump’s announcement of the Jerusalem embassy move.