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Israel takes 'VIP border pass' from Palestinian minister following ICC meeting

Palestinian Authority foreign minister Riad al-Maliki had pass taken from him after meeting with international court's lead prosecutor
PA foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki gestures during a press conference organised by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) on 26 February 2020 at the UN office in Geneva (AFP)

Israeli authorities confiscated the VIP border pass of Palestinian Authority (PA) foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki upon his return to the occupied West Bank from a meeting at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a Palestinian official said on Sunday.

Ahmed al-Deek, an official in Maliki's office, told Reuters the Israeli move was linked to the foreign minister's meeting with ICC lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in The Hague on Thursday.

The VIP card is an Israeli-granted pass that enables dozens of senior Palestinian officials to move freely through border crossings, as Israel controls crossings between the occupied West Bank and neighbouring countries.

"This is the foreign minister of the State of Palestine. He doesn't represent himself. He represents the State of Palestine, and we regard this as an attack against the State of Palestine," said Deek. 

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He added that security officers from Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, detained and questioned Maliki's aides for 90 minutes at the Israeli-operated border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank.

Deek said the minister left the crossing without his card. It was not clear when it would be returned to him.

“This proves once again that Israel is a rogue state, which cannot solve cases by law, but rather resorts to intimidation, sanctions and threats,” Deek told official PA news agency Wafa.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office declined to comment to Reuters, while the Israeli foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

While the Shin Bet also refused to comment, Israeli news outlet The Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli sources as confirming that the move was directly related to the ICC probe.

"Riad Maliki is leading Palestinian efforts before the International Criminal Court, with the purpose of harming the freedom of movement of senior Israeli officials and even to endanger their safety. These kinds of confrontation actions are inconsistent with the established relations between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority," the sources said.

"Against the backdrop of Maliki's activities designed to harm Israel, it was decided that there was no basis for Maliki to benefit from 'special privileges' for when he crosses borders.”

ICC investigations 

Bensouda announced earlier this month she would formally investigate war crimes allegedly committed by Israel and the Hamas movement in the occupied Palestinian territories, a move welcomed by the Palestinian Authority and denounced by Israel.

On Friday, ICC prosecutors said they had sent Israeli and Palestinian officials notifications of the opening of a war crimes probe, a move that leaves the parties with one month to seek a deferral.

Maliki's office said on Thursday that he met with Bensouda to urge that the investigations be accelerated.

This isn’t the first time Israel has exerted punitive measures against the PA over its relationship with the ICC. When the PA joined the ICC in 2015, Israel  froze the transfer of millions of dollars’ worth of Palestinian tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA.

The ICC investigation will likely cover the 2014 Gaza war, during which the Israeli military killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Casualties on the Israeli side stood at 66 soldiers and seven civilians.

Meanwhile, at least 190 Palestinians, again the vast majority civilians, were killed by Israeli forces cracking down on weekly protests along Gaza’s frontier in 2018. Thousands more were injured. The death toll peaked on 14 May - the day the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem - when 68 people were fatally shot.

As for Hamas and other Palestinian factions such as Islamic Jihad, Bensouda submitted a report to the court last year identifying violations over the use of indiscriminate rockets in targeting Israeli civilian gatherings, the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, and the killing of people accused of spying for Israel.