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Israel allows first ICC visit but denies its authority on 'war crimes'

Israel maintains that it can carry out its own investigation into alleged crimes during 2014 war in Gaza
A Palestinian boy holds his sister near the rubble of their home, destroyed in the 2014 Gaza war (Reuters)

Israel has announced it will allow the International Criminal Court its first ever visit to the country, but has stated it has no authority to assess claims of war crimes against Palestinians in the 2014 Gaza war.

The Hague-based ICC, has been considering a visit to Israel for more than a year since Palestinian authorities raised a complaint about alleged war crimes committed in the 2014 war, and ongoing settlement construction.

Under its statutes, the ICC must be satisfied that Israel is unable or unwilling to pursue investigations itself before the court opens war crimes proceedings.

An Israeli official told the AFP news agency on Friday that the unprecedented visit would happen “shortly”. A formal request for the visit by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was submitted within the last week, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Friday.

An Israeli official told the newspaper “we have nothing to hide” but added that the visit would show the ICC it had no "jurisdiction or authority" to handle Palestinian allegations of war crimes.

“We would be happy to show the court at The Hague how serious, professional and independent the Israeli legal system is," the official said.

"This is an additional opportunity to make clear that Israel believes there is no room for the intervention of the court at The Hague and that it has neither the authority nor the justification to handle the Palestinians' complaints."

Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (AFP)

Israel's own investigations

Israel will seek to convince the visiting ICC team that it intends to see justice done over accusations it used excessive force in the July-August 2014 war in and around the Palestinian territory, and in events immediately preceding it.

Israel has launched its own investigations into scores of individual allegations of violations during that period.

However, the army said in a statement released on Wednesday that it had closed 13 cases without imposing any penalties, while a further 80 were closed before any investigation began.

One of the cases closed before an investigation began was into the July 2014 deaths of 12 members of the Siyam family, who were allegedly killed by Israeli shelling as they fled their home after it was damaged by an air strike.

Last January the Palestinian government signed up to the Rome Statute, the international treaty according to which the ICC was founded, hoping to see Israel investigated over alleged war crimes.

However, Israel argues that Palestine is not internationally recognised as a sovereign state, and therefore has no right to ask the ICC to investigate potential war crimes.

Last year then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, now defence minister, threatened to urge the ICC's European backers to stop financing the court after it opened its preliminary investigation into allegations of war crimes during the 2014 war.

The conflict killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians including some 550 children – on the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.