Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian territories’

Israeli military says ready to protect Druze village in Syria

November 3, 2017

JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Israel’s military said on Friday it was ready to protect a frontier village in Syria held by the Syrian government, where Damascus said jihadist rebels exploded a car killing at least nine people.

The statement was an unusually explicit Israeli pledge to intervene in the war in Syria, where Israeli officials are voicing deeper alarm at the role of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which are fighting alongside the Syrian government.

The Israeli air force says it has struck arms convoys of the Syrian military and Hezbollah nearly 100 times in recent years. Its most recent strike was on Wednesday according to the Syrian government.

Quneitra province in Syria, where Hader village is located, is particularly sensitive to Israel because it is adjacent to the Golan Heights area that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Syrian rebel factions launched an attack on Syrian government-held territory in Quneitra on Friday, with the aim of connecting two insurgent-held areas.

The attack included the car bomb in Hader, which Syrian state media attributed to the jihadist group formerly known as the Nusra Front.

Syrian state media accused Israel of giving various kinds of support to the Nusra Front. In its statement, the Israeli military denied any involvement with jihadist groups in the fighting.

Hader is populated by members of the Druze, a minority religious sect present in Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.

Israel’s Druze, some of whom have reached the senior echelons of the Israeli military and government, have been calling for help on behalf of their brethren in Syria, both at home and abroad. The flashpoint village of Hader has been of particular concern.

After Friday’s car bomb there, Syrian state television broadcast footage it said was of residents of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights attempting to cross the border to assist people in Hader.

Druze residents tried to cross into Syria, but were held back by Israeli soldiers, Israel’s military said on Twitter.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is prepared and ready to assist the residents of the village and prevent damage to or the capture of the village Hader out of commitment to the Druze population,” the military said in a statement.

Israeli officials have previously said they were looking at the possibility of assisting Hader, whose residents have Druze kinsman lobbying on their behalf in Israel.


Jordan scraps controversial rape law — allowed the rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim

August 1, 2017


© POOL/AFP/File | Activists applauded the Jordanian parliament’s abolition of a controversial law allowing a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim

AMMAN (AFP) – Jordan’s parliament on Tuesday scrapped a controversial article in the penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.

Activists had campaigned for years to abolish Article 308, which allowed rape charges to be dropped if the rapist married his victim and did not divorce her for five years.

The article was scrapped as parliament passed amendments to the penal law, the official Petra news agency reported.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hani Mulqi threw his weight behind the move.

“The government is committed to eliminating Article 308 to reinforce the protection of the Jordanian family,” he said.

Human rights activists applauded parliament’s action.

“The removal of this article is a victory for all victims of rape,” said Eva Abu Halaweh, a lawyer and the head of law group Mizan.

It comes “after years of huge effort from civil society organisations”, she said.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, also welcomed the vote.

“BRAVO #JORDAN for repealing heinous article 308 absolving rapists who marry their victims. Urge #Arab states to follow. Women NOT property,” she tweeted.

Whitson earlier urged lawmakers to repeal the article, saying it had been “a blight on Jordan’s human rights record for decades”.

“The mere existence of article 308 puts pressure on women and girls to marry those who assault them, including teenage victims of rape,” she said.

Jordan registered more than 160 rape cases last year, according to official figures.

Last week, Tunisia also scrapped an article allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victim when it passed a new law to end violence against women.

According to Human Rights Watch, countries in the region that retain similar provisions in their laws include Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria, as well as the Palestinian territories.

China’s Xi Pledges ‘Unremitting’ Efforts for Middle East Peace — China is trying to play the role of “honest broker” in the Middle East

July 18, 2017

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday to make “unremitting” efforts toward promoting peace in the Middle East following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as China steps up its diplomatic engagement with the region.

Palestinian officials have urged China, which supports an independent Palestinian state, to do more in the Middle East peace process.

Chinese envoys occasionally visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories, though China has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy despite its reliance on the region for oil.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Abbas in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi said the international community paid close attention to the Middle East peace process.

“As the Palestinian people’s good friend, partner and brother, China hopes Palestine and Israel can achieve peace as soon as possible and live and work in peace. China will make unremitting efforts for this,” Xi said, after receiving a Palestinian medal of honor from Abbas.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, shakes hands after presenting a medallion to Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Schiefelbein/Pool

China has historically had a good relationship with the Palestinians.

The Middle East, however, is fraught with risk for China, which has little experience navigating the religious and political tensions that frequently rack the region.

Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Zhang Ming later said Xi reiterated support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and also called for the security of both the Palestinians and Israelis to be protected.

It is important to advance a political settlement on the basis of the two state solution, Zhang added, paraphrasing Xi.

U.S. President Donald Trump has renewed efforts to get Israeli-Palestinian talks going again, after they collapsed in 2014.

His Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, announced an Israeli-Palestinian water agreement last week but dodged questions on whether he was making headway on reviving peace talks.

Diplomats say that China is trying to play the role of “honest broker” in the Middle East, as it lacks the historical baggage of the Americans or the Europeans.

Xi told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March that peaceful coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians would be good for both parties and the region, and that it was favored by the international community.

Netanyahu’s trip came just days after China hosted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and signed deals worth as much as $65 billion with Riyadh.

China also has close ties with Iran, whose nuclear program has seriously alarmed Israel and Saudi Arabia.

More broadly, China hopes a peaceful Middle East will lessen the flow of ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim people from the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, to Syria and Iraq to join up with militant groups there.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Trump meets Pope Francis at Vatican

May 24, 2017


© AFP | Trump and the pope have clashed over many issues


US President Donald Trump met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday in a keenly-anticipated first face-to-face encounter between two world leaders who have clashed repeatedly on several issues.

The private audience with the pontiff was preceded by a cordial handshake for the cameras and was expected to last around 20 minutes.

It came on the third leg of Trump’s first overseas trip as president, which has already taken him to Saudi Arabia and to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The two men had never met before Wednesday morning but they have significant history having clashed publicly over subjects ranging from migration to unbridled capitalism and climate change.

They also disagree on issues like the death penalty and the arms trade but share a fervent opposition to abortion.

Trump was accompanied for the audience by his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka, both dressed all in black, in keeping with traditional protocol that is no longer always observed by all female dignitaries visiting the Vatican.

The audience took place in the private library of the Apostolic Palace, the official papal residence that Francis does not use, having opted instead for modest lodgings in a Vatican guesthouse.

Immediately after the meeting, the 80-year-old pope was due to give his usual midweek address to the faithful on St Peter’s square while the Trump couple are given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.

Later in the morning, Trump, 70, will call on Italy’s president and prime minister while Melania visits a children’s hospital and Ivanka discusses migrant issues with members of the St Egidio religious community.

The Trump team is due to fly to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon for meetings with EU and NATO officials before returning to Italy late Thursday for the G7 summit in Sicily on Friday and Saturday.

Trump in Jerusalem — Can the American tourist and deal-maker also be a peacemaker?

May 22, 2017

JERUSALEM — Even before President Donald Trump began his trip to Israel, he already may have made history.

The president’s flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Monday was believed to be the first direct flight between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The president landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories as part of his first trip abroad since taking office.

An Israel Airport Authority spokesman said he was not aware of any direct flights ever having landed in Israel from the kingdom.

Image result for jerusalem photos


 Extreme security is being put in place in Jerusalem, as the Middle Eastern city gets ready for the first abroad trip by US President Donald Trump. For the “historic” two-day visit, a poison gas-safe and rocket-proof suite has been prepared for the US leader.

First pictures of . Couples greeting eachother with obviously calling “my friend”

Accompanied by several aircraft, Air Force One is expected to land at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday afternoon. The US presidential plane will arrive from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Haaretz reported, citing the schedule released by Israeli Prime Minister’s office.
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump © Yuri GripasSaudi Arabia ‘welcomes’ any attire for Trump’s wife Melania during US President’s 1st foreign trip
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While Trump’s first overseas trip has been already dubbed “historic” for many reasons, including the choice and sequence of destinations, it might also represent the first official direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel.The two nations in the Middle East have no diplomatic relations, and there are no commercial flights between Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport and Saudi Arabia, according to Haaretz, which also reported that Israeli airplanes are not even allowed to fly through Saudi Arabian airspace.
Private jets from Israel usually have to land in Amman for several minutes to get an approved flight plan, the Israeli newspaper reported. The never-seen-before exception has apparently been made for Trump’s trip.In last few days before Air Force One lands at Ben-Gurion, preparations for the US president’s arrival are already in full swing, according to local media. Around 30 C-17 transport planes with hundreds of tons of equipment on board have started to arrive, Jerusalem Post reported.


Some 900 personnel and more than 50 vehicles, including 14 limousines, are to be brought in. However, Trump is expected to travel mostly by helicopter, the Times of Israel reported, adding that “organizers are hoping to avoid a repeat of a mishap during Obama’s visit,” when the US presidential limo reportedly broke down due to having the wrong type of fuel.

Among the cargo already delivered from the US are bullet proof glass to be installed in the president’s hotel suite.

The Trump family will stay in the 140-square meter suite of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which offers panoramic views of the Old City for around $5,500 a night. The same room was occupied by former US presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and both Bushes.

The hotel was emptied of its guests a week before Trump’s arrival, Israel National News reported. According to the Times of Israel, Trump’s entourage will take over all six floors in the building with over 230 rooms being reserved for the delegation. Some 500 guests who had already made reservations are to be relocated to other hotels.

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FILE PHOTO Israeli police and border police officers stand in front of the King David hotel in Jerusalem © Ammar Awad / Reuters

Reporting that the hotel and its surrounding area “would become a virtual fortress,” the Times of Israel said that all telephones and TVs in the suite would be replaced by US security teams with devices specially flown in from the States.Moreover, the luxurious suite is bulletproof, poison gas-proof and bomb-proof, built to withstand the collapse of the entire building, according to NBC News citing the property operations manager, Sheldon Ritz.”The presidential suites have independent air conditioning in case of a gas attack and are built to withstand a RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]. But still the US is bringing rocket-proof glass to put in front of the window,” NBC News cited Ritz as saying. “If the whole hotel blows up, the suite will come down in one piece,” he added.Infrared cameras will be deployed to hover above the building, and bomb-spotting robots will be placed in sewers beneath it, NBC News reported.Read more
© Baz RatnerMoving US embassy would help peace by ‘shattering Palestinian fantasy’ – Israeli PM

Elsewhere in the holy city, claimed as their capital by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, thousands of police and troops will safeguard the US leader. On Thursday night, joint exercises were conducted by Israeli police and the US secret service to practice a huge security operation code-named “Blue Shield,” Israel National News reported.There have been reports that due to strict demands from Washington, one of the planned locations to be visited by Trump while in Israel has been excluded from the list.
Numerous preparations had been made at the ancient fortress of Masada, but after the US leader had been reportedly denied permission to land a helicopter at the protected site and told to use a cable car, the visit there was canceled, according to Israel National News.The US president will visit Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial, Yad Vashem, and there meet with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.
“The president will deliver remarks at the Israel Museum, and celebrate unique history of Israel and of the Jewish people, while reaffirming America’s unshakable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East,” US National Security Advisor H R McMaster told reporters earlier this week.

Trump will also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, having been invited for a private family dinner.

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President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during their news conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On the second day of his visit, Trump will cross the 1967 border to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The US leader “will convey his administration’s eagerness to facilitate an agreement that ends the conflict, and he will urge Palestinian leaders to take steps that will help lead to peace,” McMaster informed the media.
“And he [Trump] will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and say a prayer at the Western Wall,” the US official added. Trump will become the first sitting president to visit the holy site in East Jerusalem.
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre
While visiting the Western Wall, the president will be accompanied by his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump. She converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner, who will also join the American presidential delegation on the Trumps’ first overseas trip.
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Western Wall

Ruling Fatah Party faces harsh reality check in West Bank municipal elections

May 15, 2017

Running virtually unopposed, Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah Party has strolled to victory in West Bank municipal elections. Seeking to renew its legitimacy, the win was marred by a low turnout and lackluster support.

Mahmoud Abbas (picture alliance/AP Photo/R.Adayleh)

After the Islamic Hamas movement confirmed it would boycott the vote, Saturday’smunicipal elections across the West Bank were always going to serve as a litmus test for President Mahmoud Abbas (pictured) and his Fatah Party’s popularity.

Although it won easily, the Fatah Party’s poor showing as results were released on Sunday reflected public discontent towards Abbas. The West Bank has for years been marred by a weak economy, while Abbas has allegedly allowed nepotism to flourish within his party’s ranks and failed to move the Palestinian Territories any closer to independence after more than 10 years at the helm.

Although Saturday’s vote was the first legislative election in the West Bank in over a decade, turnout was low, with just 53 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots.

Fatah only managed clear victories in two major cities: Jenin and Jericho. In Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city and a Hamas stronghold, Abbas’ party managed to claim seven of 15 seats.

“The result wasn’t great for us,” Tayseer Abu Sneineh, the head of Fatah’s list in the city, told the Associated Press.

The ruling party managed to win 11 of 15 seats in Nablus, another major city, but only after forming alliances with Islamist candidates. Turnout there was just 21 percent.

Divided governments

Palestine’s two territories have remained politically divided since Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 legislative elections in the Gaza Strip. Fatah was subsequently driven out of the area, leaving Abbas in control of just the Palestinian Authority autonomy government in parts of the West Bank.

Several attempts to reconcile have fallen short, and each party has been allowed to effectively rule its territory autonomously since.

Last year, the two parties were poised to compete in elections in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, before each side disqualified the other’s candidate. Elections in Gaza were postponed and Fatah went ahead and ran unopposed in a bid to renew its legitimacy.

Following Saturday’s vote, Palestinian Central Elections Commission chairman Hanna Nasser said he would try to persuade Hamas to allow elections in all of Gaza’s 25 localities later this year.

“The commission will meet with Hamas in Gaza to see if we can hold supplementary elections there so that we would have elections in all parts of the country,” he said.

Gabriel defends ‘anti-Israel NGO’ meetings ahead of Steinmeier trip

May 5, 2017

Germany’s foreign minister has defended a decision to meet with groups critical of the Israeli government. The remarks could make an upcoming trip to Israel awkward for the German president.

Außenminister Gabriel in Israel (picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the German mass-market daily “Bild” on Friday he does not regret a controversial meeting with human rights groups in Israel and, given the chance, would do it again.

“Democrats should also be able to meet with organizations that are critical of the government,” Gabriel, who belongs to Germany’s Social Democratic Party, said. “There should be no ultimatums among Democrats.”

Read: Netanyahu accuses German Foreign Minister Gabriel of ‘tactlessness’

During his visit to Israel last week, Gabriel sat down with representatives from Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, both organizations that have been deeply critical of settlements and the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had warned Gabriel against meeting with what he described as “radical fringe groups,” subsequently canceled scheduled talks, calling the minister’s behavior “tactless.”

Read more: Opinion: Bibi’s theatrics

B’Tselem is a prominent NGO that records human rights abuses and Jewish settlement building in Palestinian territories. Breaking the Silence documents testimony from ex-Israeli soldiers about abuses committed against Palestinians.

Gabriel told “Bild” that Netanyahu wanted to force him to “cancel a meeting with respectable Israeli citizens only because they are critical of his policies relating to Palestinians.”  He added that these policies were also “highly controversial in Israel, so it was obvious to me that I also had to hear from critics.”

Upcoming Steinmeier visit

Gabriel’s repeated defense of his actions may be problematic for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is due to arrive in Israel on Saturday. Referring to that visit, Gabriel said Steinmeier’s role was different to his own, and expressed full confidence the president will be able to “find the right words to calm the situation.”

Relations between Germany and Israel have been strained recently as Netanyahu’s government moves forward with a crackdown on civil society groups and settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Germany has criticized Israel for hindering a two-state solution.

United States is boycotting a session at the U.N. Human Rights Council that focuses on Palestine and other Arab occupied territories due to bias against Israel

March 20, 2017

The Associated Press

March 20, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — The State Department says the United States is boycotting a session at the U.N. Human Rights Council that focuses on Palestine and other Arab occupied territories, saying it is biased against Israel.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a statement took aim at a recurring agenda item at the council, which focuses on Israel and the Palestinian territories — the only one of its kind to focus on a single country at every HRC session. It was taking place Monday.

Toner also said the United States would vote against every resolution that might be put forward under the agenda item.

Earlier, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, Michael Lynk, decried how “illegal settlement enterprise has moved at an alarming pace” this year.

Britain’s Boris Johnson visits Israel, Palestinian territories

March 8, 2017


© POOL/AFP | British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) greets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 8, 2017
JERUSALEM (AFP) – British foreign minister Boris Johnson visited Israel and the Palestinian territories Wednesday for talks with leaders from both sides as Donald Trump’s arrival as US president casts uncertainty over the decades-old conflict.

Johnson was due to meet both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in his first working visit since taking over as foreign secretary in July.

He met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose role is mainly ceremonial, earlier in the day and was also to hold talks with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki.

There were also reports in Israeli media that Johnson would be briefed by anti-settlement NGO Peace Now, but there was no official confirmation.

The gaffe-prone Johnson stirred controversy when he visited Israel in November 2015 while still mayor of London by calling those advocating a boycott of the country over its occupation of Palestinian territory “corduroy-jacketed lefty academics.”

Afterwards, a number of Palestinian groups refused to meet him and he was informed his comments had led to additional security risks if he were to visit the West Bank.

He however still met with Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah.

His visit this time comes with Trump’s administration casting uncertainty over the West’s long efforts to foster a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump backed away from the US commitment to a two-state solution when he met Netanyahu at the White House in February, saying he would be open to a single state if it led to peace.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government says it remains committed to a two-state solution and has criticised Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Britain voted in favour of a UN Security Council resolution passed in December demanding a halt to settlement construction. The vote prompted Israel to temporarily scale back relations.

But Britain refused to sign the final statement of a Middle East peace conference held in Paris in January that was strongly opposed by Israel.

Netanyahu met May in London in February, saying at the time that all “responsible nations” should back new sanctions against Israel’s arch-foe Iran.

International Criminal Court (ICC) Visits Israel and the Palestinian Territories — Investigation into alleged possible war crimes by both sides

October 5, 2016


© AFP / by Jo Biddle | Israeli security forces stand guard at the entrance of the West Bank village of Bani Naim, east of Hebron, on September 20, 2016

THE HAGUE (AFP) – A delegation from the world’s only International Criminal Court (ICC) is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories this week, the chief prosecutor said Wednesday, against the backdrop of a probe into the 2014 Gaza war.

The trip from Wednesday until October 10 will be the first to the region by officials from the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court (ICC) since the conflict.

But chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was quick to stress the trip was “not linked” to her preliminary examination into the war launched last year which “is ongoing”.

The team will travel to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Bensouda said in a statement and hold “meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials at the working levels.”

But she made no mention of whether the delegation would travel to the impoverished Gaza Strip.

At the request of the Palestinians, Bensouda’s office opened an initial probe into alleged war crimes by both sides during the July-August 2014 conflict.

Some 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed in fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and other factions, according to UN figures.

On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, mostly soldiers.

“Not to visit the Gaza is an insult to the victims of Israeli terrorism,” said Fawzy Barhoum, the spokesperson for Hamas in Gaza.

“The delegation should do its duty and travel to Gaza to see the scene of the crime, to hear from witnesses and to understand the reality of Israeli crimes against Gaza’s civilians,” he told AFP.

But Bensouda, who is believed not to be accompanying the team, said the aim of the “visit will be to undertake outreach and education activities with a view to raising awareness about the ICC and in particular, about the work of the office”.

The delegation “will not engage in evidence collection in relation to any alleged crimes,” she added.

“Neither will the delegation undertake site visits, or assess the adequacy of the respective legal systems to deal with crimes that fall within ICC jurisdiction.”

– Complex issues –

Israel and the Palestinians have traded accusations of war crimes, and Bensouda said the initial probe working to see if there is enough evidence to merit a full investigation involved “a number of complex legal issues and a review of large volumes of documents.”

She asked that her office be given the “necessary space and time to conduct its activities… independently and impartially.”

Israel is alleged to have used force indiscriminately in Gaza in 2014, while Hamas is accused of firing rockets at Israeli civilian population centres and of using Palestinians as human shields.

The Palestinians formally asked the ICC last year to investigate the Jewish state, which is not a party to the treaty that governs the court, for alleged war crimes.

Israel vehemently opposes any ICC investigation, but officials have said they will cooperate with the body to convince it of the competence of the state’s own courts.

The ICC team will also visit UN agencies, and intends to give television and newspaper interviews in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The ICC was set up in 2002 to investigate and try those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, where national authorities cannot or will not prosecute

by Jo Biddle