War crimes case mulled as Israel pulls back troops
Palestinians suffer $4-6b in damages
THE HAGUE — Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki said there was “clear evidence” of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.
Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to pave the way for an extended ceasefire.
Malki, visiting the court to lobby for action against Israel over its Gaza incursion, said the Palestinians aimed to formally joint the ICC to open the legal avenue for an investigation.
“Everything that has happened in the last 28 days is clear evidence of war crimes committed by Israel, amounting to crimes against humanity,” he told reporters in The Hague. “There is no difficulty for us to show or build the case. Evidence is there … Israel is in clear violation of international law.”
Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip, but minutes before the truce began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), Hamas launched a salvo of rockets, calling them revenge for Israel’s “massacres”.
Israel’s anti-missile system shot down one rocket over occupied Jerusalem, police said. Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the West Bank. There were no casualties.
Israeli armor and infantry withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed. “Mission accomplished,” the military tweeted.
Troops and tanks will be “redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions”, spokesman Lt. Col Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said Israel’s offensive in the densely populated coastal enclave was a “100 percent failure”.
Meanwhile, Deputy Economy Minister Taysir Amro, said the war will cost the Palestinian territory at least $4-6 billion in damages.
Amro told AFP the figure included only “direct damages” to the Gaza economy and warned it could climb further once additional impacts on the 1.8 million population are taken into account.
A more precise assessment would be carried out once calm returns permanently to the overpopulated sliver of territory where more than 1,850 people were killed and nearly half a million displaced, he said.
Amro said international donors were expected to meet in Norway in September, but gave no further details.
In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents, carrying mattresses and with children in tow, left UN shelters to trek back to neighborhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.
Sitting on a pile of debris on the edge of the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Zuhair Hjaila, a 33-year-old father of four, said he had lost his house and his supermarket.
“This is complete destruction,” he said. “I never thought I would come back to find an earthquake zone.”
The Australian government, meanwhile, made its strongest criticism yet of its staunch ally Israel over the war in Gaza, with the foreign minister calling the shelling of United Nations schools “indefensible.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop welcomed the ceasefire and urged Israel to take all necessary steps to prevent civilian casualties. “I am deeply troubled by the suffering being endured by the Palestinian population in Gaza, where many hundreds of innocent people have been killed, including women and children,” Bishop said in a statement.