Israel says it will loan Palestinians money after highest-level talks in years

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel will lend the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority more than $150 million after the sides held their highest-level meeting in years, Israeli officials said on Monday, while playing down prospects of any major diplomatic breakthrough.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has overall responsibility for the Israeli-occupied West Bank, travelled to the Palestinian self-rule area of the territory for previously undisclosed talks on Sunday with President Mahmoud Abbas.

A source close to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the premier had approved the Gantz-Abbas meeting and deemed it a “routine” matter. “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be one,” the source told Reuters.

U.S.-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state stalled in 2014. The Gantz-Abbas meeting took place as Bennett, a nationalist who opposes Palestinian statehood, returned from his first talks with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington.

PA official Hussein Al Sheikh said the talks with Gantz included “all aspects” of Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Abbas coordinates West Bank security with Israel. Both sides are wary of Hamas Islamists who seized the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory, from Abbas in 2007.

But Israel chafes at stipends the PA pays to militants jailed or killed in attacks on Israelis. In a protest measure, the Bennett government last month withheld $180 million from 2020 tax revenues it collected on behalf of the PA. A Gantz spokeswoman said that policy was unchanged.

The 500 million shekel ($155 million) loan was meant to help “with vital PA functions” and would be repaid in 2022 out of future tax revenues collected by Israel, the spokeswoman said.

A White House statement said Biden, during his talks with Bennett on Friday, reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “underscored the importance of steps to improve the lives of Palestinians”.

Bennett did not mention Palestinians in public remarks at the White House that focused largely on arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program.

Gantz, a centrist in Bennett’s coalition government, has called in the past for resumption of a peace process with the Palestinians, who aspire to a state of their own in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East war.

But any renewed movement on the issue could shake the foundations of Bennett’s government of left-wing, rightist, centrist and Arab parties that in June ended the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister.

In a sign of friction within the coalition, Mossi Raz, a legislator from the left-wing Meretz party, said dismissal of prospects for renewed peace talks by the Bennett source was “outrageous.”

“A peace process is an Israeli interest,” Raz wrote on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Howard Goller)

Former UN rights boss to head probe into Israel, Hamas alleged crimes

GENEVA (Reuters) – Former United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay will head an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council said in a statement on Thursday.

The council agreed in late May to launch the investigation with a broad mandate to probe all alleged violations, not just in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but also in Israel during hostilities that were halted by a May 21 ceasefire.

At least 250 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel were killed in the fierce fighting, which saw Gaza militants fire rockets towards Israeli cities and Israel carry out air strikes across the coastal enclave.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the council at the time that deadly Israeli strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.

Israel rejected the resolution adopted by the Geneva forum at an emergency special session and said it would not cooperate.

Pillay, a former South African judge who served as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014, will lead the three-person panel also composed of Indian expert Miloon Kothari and Australian expert Chris Sidoti, said the statement issued by the Human Rights Council. The investigators, who have been tasked with trying to identify those responsible for violations with a view to ensure they are held accountable, are due to present their first report in June 2022.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Israeli settlements amount to war crime – U.N. rights expert

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) -Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank amount to a war crime, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday, calling on countries to inflict a cost on Israel for its “illegal occupation.”

Michael Lynk, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, was addressing a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, boycotted by Israel which does not recognize his mandate or cooperate with him.

“I conclude that the Israeli settlements do amount to a war crime,” Lynk said.

He said the settlements violate an absolute ban on an occupying power transferring part of its civilian population into an occupied territory, thereby meeting the definition of a war crime under the Rome Statute founding the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“I submit to you that this finding compels the international community … to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free,” Lynk told the Geneva rights forum.

Many countries consider the settlements a breach of international law. Israel disputes this and cites Biblical and historical connections to the land, as well as security needs.

In a separate statement, Lynk said Israeli settlements were “the engine of Israel’s 54-year-old occupation.” There are now close to 300 settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with more than 680,000 Israeli settlers, he said.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally which has observer status at the council, was not on the speakers’ list for the debate.

Lotte Knudsen, the European Union’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said the settlements were illegal under international law, echoing the position of most countries.

“Such actions as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions, and confiscation of homes will only escalate an already tense environment.”

Palestinian Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi said Israel detained 5,000 Palestinians, some of them for more than 20 years.

Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, but the issue of Jewish settlements on land captured by Israel in a 1967 war has long been a stumbling block in the peace process. The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

Israel to sell Jordan additional water this year, minister says

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will this year double its supply of water to Jordan, Israeli officials said on Thursday after a meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers, adding that Amman’s exports to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank could also increase.

Jordan is a key security partner for Israel but relations have suffered in recent years over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Yair Lapid, foreign minister in a cross-partisan coalition that ousted conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government a month ago, said Israel would sell Jordan 50 million cubic meters of water this year.

An Israeli official said that would effectively double the supply for the year – measured between May 2021 and May 2022 – as around 50 million cubic meters was already being sold or given to Jordan. A Jordanian official said Israel gives the kingdom 30 million cubic meters annually under their 1994 peace treaty.

In a statement issued after he held a first meeting in Jordan with its foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, Lapid said the countries also agreed to explore increasing Jordan’s exports to the West Bank to $700 million a year, from $160 million now.

“The Kingdom of Jordan is an important neighbor and partner,” Lapid said. “We will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.”

(Writing by Dan Williams and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Israel tears down Bedouin tents in Palestinian village

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel demolished the tent dwellings of at least 63 Bedouin in a village in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a Palestinian official said, in an area designated by the Israeli military as a firing zone.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said around 35 children were among those at risk of “(forced) transfer” following the demolitions in the Jordan Valley village of Khirbet Humsah.

Palestinians and rights groups accuse Israel of trying to forcibly clear out Khirbet Humsah’s Bedouin – who witnesses said remained at the site after the demolitions – to make room for Jewish settlement expansion.

Muataz Bsharat, an official in the Palestinian Authority that administers limited self-rule in the West Bank, said it was the seventh time Israeli authorities had destroyed tent dwellings as well as animal shelters, latrines, solar panels and water containers in the village.

“Now 63 Palestinians became homeless. Eleven families had their homes demolished and confiscated,” he said, accusing Israel of “state-sponsored terrorism” against the residents.

COGAT, a branch of Israel’s defense ministry, said Israel acted in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling in demolishing tents that again had been illegally erected by Palestinians who “invaded the firing range” in 2012.

Israel has often cited a lack of building permits, which Palestinians and rights groups say are nearly impossible to obtain, in destroying Palestinian structures in the West Bank, an area it captured in a 1967 war.

Israel has said the Bedouin in Khirbet Humsah had rejected offers to move them out of the firing zone to an alternative location.

At the site, mechanical excavators tore into the tents and then lifted the remnants into dump trucks to be carted away as residents looked on.

Israeli authorities have demolished at least 421 structures belonging to Palestinians in the first half of 2021, a 30% increase over the same period in 2020, the NRC said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams; Editing by William Maclean)

Lasers and flaming torches light up battle over new Israeli settlement

By Ali Sawafta and Rami Ayyub

BEITA, West Bank (Reuters) – In a fusion of the modern and the medieval, green laser beams and flaming torches light up the night sky in a remote part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as Palestinians wage a battle to stop a new Jewish settlement.

The “Night Disruption” protests south of Nablus are aimed at halting the rapid growth of a settler outpost that began in early May and is now home to 53 Israeli families on what the Palestinians say is their land.

Israeli troops have shot dead five Palestinians during stone-throwing protests since Givat Eviatar was set up, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military did not comment on fatalities, but said troops used live fire only as a last resort.

The army has deployed soldiers during the night-time demonstrations, as well as at Friday protests in the nearby village of Beita which have lasted several months.

During the night protests that began last week, burning tires have engulfed settler homes in acrid smoke.

“We come at night, we light up the mountain, to send them a message that they can’t have even an inch of this land,” said one masked Palestinian this week. He lit fires while others flashed laser pointers to dazzle the settlers in their homes.

The Israeli military said it faced “hundreds of Palestinians throwing stones, lighting fires, burning tires and throwing explosives” at its troops.

“The large number of violent rioters endangers the lives of Israeli civilians and a military force has been deployed to provide protection,” it said in a statement.

Protests against an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood were one factor behind 11 days of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants in May in which over 250 Palestinians and 13 in Israel were killed.

SETTLER OUTPOST

The settlers named the outpost after Eviatar Borovsky, an Israeli stabbed to death in 2013 by a Palestinian at a nearby road junction. The outpost has been built up and evacuated three times since then.

But it was set up without government authorization – which makes it illegal under Israeli law – and presents an early test for new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett was once a senior leader of the settler movement and heads a far-right religious party.

But he sits precariously atop a new coalition that spans the political spectrum from far-right to far-left, making sensitive policy decisions on the Israeli-Palestinian difficult.

The Israeli military issued an order to evacuate the outpost on June 6. But that was under Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Bennett replaced on June 13.

The evacuation order has since been postponed, the Israeli military said, and Bennett has not said if he plans to implement it.

A spokesman for Bennett’s office declined comment, but the settlers are intent on staying on what they call “Eviatar’s Hill” and Palestinians call “Jabal Al-Sabih” or “The Morning Mountain”, because the sunlight strikes it early.

“They won’t drive us away from here. This is our homeland, this is our forefathers’ land. We love the land, we want to be here, we know they come out of hate,” said Eli Shapira, a 30-year-old teacher and father of four.

As construction proceeds, some settler families live in caravans. Some roads are already paved, and others are lined with electricity cables.

EAST-WEST CORRIDOR

More than 440,000 Israeli settlers live uneasily among some 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, land that Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 war but which Palestinians say is the heartland of a future state.

The Palestinians and most countries view Israel’s settlements as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical and biblical links to the land and its own security needs.

Palestinian officials say the new outpost would help create an unbroken east-west line of Israeli settlements through the northern West Bank, cutting the territory in half and rendering Palestinian statehood unviable.

The site lies 30 km inside the West Bank in fertile olive and grape-growing territory for Palestinians around Nablus.

Nearby there are many hilltop Jewish settlements, whose residents want to extend their territory.

“Israel is a strong country and not only will we not be weakened, not only will terrorism not scare us or make us flee from our homeland – we will build more and more,” said Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council representing settlements in the area.

On Sunday Israel’s military rejected an appeal by the settlers against evacuation, saying the outpost “undermined security stability” in the area.

The settlers have until Monday to appeal to the Supreme Court, a military spokesman said, although the decision over the evacuation ultimately rests with Bennett.

Moussa Hamayel, Beita’s deputy mayor, said they had heard reports that the outpost might be dismantled. But he was skeptical.

“We don’t trust their promises, not until we see (the outpost) completely empty,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Rami Amichay; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Mike Collett-White)

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID vaccine doses in exchange deal

By Rami Ayyub

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel will send at least 1 million soon-to-expire COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under a deal to share shots, officials said on Friday.

Under the terms of the deal, announced by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, the PA agreed to give Israel a reciprocal number of doses from one of its own shipments due to arrive later this year.

Rights groups have criticized Israel, which led the world with its swift vaccine roll-out, for not doing more to ensure Palestinian access to doses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, territory it captured in a 1967 war.

Criticizing the dose-sharing deal, Physicians for Human Rights Israel said on Twitter: “It is highly doubtful that the PA will be able to use all the vaccines, as they are about to expire.”

The vaccine deal was among initial policy moves towards the Palestinians by Bennett, who was sworn in on Sunday and replaced veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel will transfer to the Palestinian Authority 1-1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” a joint statement from Bennett’s office and the health and defense ministries said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech doses earmarked for transfer “will expire soon”, the statement said, and they were “approved in light of the fact that Israel’s vaccine stock meets its needs today”. The statement did not give their exact expiration date.

An initial 100,000 doses were transferred on Friday, Israeli officials said.

A source in the PA health ministry confirmed the deal and said the Palestinians expect to receive a shipment of Pfizer doses in August or September. The Israeli statement said Israel would receive reciprocal doses from the PA in September or October.

Around 55% of eligible Israelis are fully vaccinated – a coverage rate largely unchanged by this month’s expansion of eligibility to include 12- to 15-year-olds.

Some 30% of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million people, have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials.

According to a poll released on Tuesday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 40% of Palestinians are willing to take the vaccine once it is available, while 35% say they and their families are not willing to get vaccinated.

The Palestinians have received vaccine doses from Israel, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by William Maclean, Timothy Heritage and Frances Kerry)

U.N. launches investigation into whether Israel, Hamas committed crimes

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) -The United Nations Human Rights Council agreed on Thursday to launch an international investigation into alleged crimes committed during the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

The independent investigation will have a broad mandate to look into all alleged violations, not just in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but also in Israel during hostilities that were halted by a ceasefire on May 21.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, earlier told the council that deadly Israeli strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.

Israel rejected the resolution adopted by the Geneva forum and said it would not cooperate.

“Today’s shameful decision is yet another example of the UN Human Rights Council’s blatant anti-Israel obsession,” Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement accusing the forum of whitewashing “a genocidal terrorist organization”.

Israel’s foreign ministry said its forces acted “in accordance with international law, in defending our citizens from Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire”.

A spokesman for Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, called the group’s actions “legitimate resistance” and called for “immediate steps to punish” Israel.

Israel’s main ally, the United States, said it deeply regretted the decision in the forum, where it has observer status and no vote.

“The action today instead threatens to imperil the progress that has been made,” said a statement released by the U.S. mission to the U.N. in Geneva.

By a vote of 24 states in favor, and nine against, with 14 abstentions, the 47-member council adopted a resolution brought by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations.

European countries were split, with Austria, Britain and Germany voting against. France and the Netherlands abstained.

BACHELET ADDRESSES COUNCIL

Bachelet told the council her office had verified the deaths of 270 Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including 68 children, during this month’s violence. Most were killed in Gaza.

Hamas rockets killed 10 Israelis and residents, she said. Israeli authorities put the number of those killed by Palestinian attacks in Israel at 13.

“Regrettably, the self-professed global champions of human rights continue to shield the occupier from global accountability, and literally provide arms and ammunitions for its widely reported war crimes and crimes of apartheid against the Palestinian people,” said Pakistan’s ambassador to the OIC, Khalil Hashmi, who was speaking on behalf of the OIC.

The conflict flared after Hamas demanded Israeli security forces leave the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem following confrontations there with Palestinians, and later launched rockets towards Israel.

The compound sits atop the Old City plateau known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Temple Mount. It is the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bachelet said “indiscriminate” strikes from rockets launched by Hamas constituted “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”.

She said Israel’s strikes in Gaza caused widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and fatalities.

“Despite Israel’s claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard,” Bachelet said.

“If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate, such attacks might constitute war crimes,” she added.

(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Dan Williams and Jonathan Saul in Jerusalem and Nidal Al-Mughrabi in Ramallah; Editing by Peter Graff, Edmund Blair and Timothy Heritage)

ICC prosecutor warns against crimes in escalating Israel-Palestinian violence

By Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (Reuters) – Individuals involved in a new eruption of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed may be targeted by an International Criminal Court investigation now under way into alleged war crimes in earlier bouts of the conflict, its top prosecutor said in an interview.

The ICC’s Fatou Bensouda told Reuters she would press ahead with her inquiry even without the cooperation of Israel, which accuses her office of anti-Semitic bias and – like its closest ally the United States – rejected membership in the treaty-based court, objecting to its jurisdiction. Israel and Palestinian Islamist groups plunged this week into their fiercest round of fighting since 2014, with punishing Israeli air strikes on Gaza and militants based in the densely populated enclave firing over 1,600 rockets into Israel. At least 83 Palestinians and seven Israelis have died.

“These are events that we are looking at very seriously,” Bensouda said. “We are monitoring very closely and I remind that an investigation has opened and the evolution of these events could also be something we look at.”

In March her office said it was opening a formal investigation into suspected war crimes in the conflict after nearly five years of preliminary inquiries.

It said it had reasonable basis to believe offences had been committed by both the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, including militants of the Hamas group, in the Gaza Strip and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“This is just to alert people on all sides not to escalate, to be careful to avoid taking actions that will result in the commission of (war) crimes,” Bensouda said in a reference to the current hostilities.

The ICC, based in The Hague, is an independent, permanent war crimes court that succeeded ad hoc U.N. tribunals which tackled the 1990s Rwandan genocide and Yugoslav conflict. It prosecutes individuals, not countries, when a member state is unwilling or unable to do so itself.

‘POLITICALLY FRAUGHT’ INVESTIGATION

The ICC is examining whether Israeli forces committed war crimes – including disproportionate attacks and willful killings of civilians – during the 2014 Gaza war when Israeli armored forces swept into the heavily urbanized enclave.

It is also probing whether Hamas, which rules Gaza, and other Palestinian armed factions carried out intentional attacks on civilians with rocket fire into Israel, as well as torture and killings of Palestinians by Palestinian security services.

While the investigation is “politically fraught”, Bensouda said, she denied accusations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that her office was biased, or was singling out the state of Israel.

“It is regrettable and indeed unfortunate that these are the reactions that the prime minister would have. This is far from the truth,” said Bensouda, a Gambian who will be replaced by Britain’s Karim Khan when her nine-year term ends next month.

Bensouda said the decision to pursue the investigation was anchored “in the law”, not politics.

“There is a lot of rhetoric. There is also unfortunately a lot of misinformation about what this case is and what it is not…And there is a lot of spinning about the ICC, trying to portray (it) as being biased, one-sided…which is not the case. We are always very impartial. We are always very objective.”

Bensouda said her investigators met regularly with Israeli and Palestinian officials about the ICC’s preliminary inquiries to create transparency and give both sides a fair opportunity to present their positions.

“This is perhaps even more complex than what we have faced before,” Bensouda said, “but yes, at the moment there are signs there will be no cooperation whatsoever from one side…, and (we) will have to look for a way to deal with that.”

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises self-rule in parts of the West Bank but has no power in Gaza, is an ICC member and has repeatedly urged it to prosecute Israelis over alleged crimes in wars in 2014 and 2008-09.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the seven-week Gaza war in 2014, which saw a devastating Israeli offensive into the enclave during which thousands of homes were razed, along with 73 Israelis from rockets fired out of Gaza into Israel.

This time around, many more Gaza rockets are crashing into Israel’s commercial heartland, while Israel said it had bombed close to a thousand militant targets in Gaza and has massed tanks and troops along the enclave’s border.

Asked about the ICC investigation, Israel military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said Israeli forces were “committed to international law” and that Hamas militants should be prosecuted.

“Hamas is a globally recognized terrorist organization that should be held accountable for its crimes, its blatant disregard for human life,” he told Reuters.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Palestinian militant groups were carrying out a “natural right of self-defense” and it was Israeli leaders the ICC should prosecute.

“Our people are the victims of the aggression conducted by the Israeli occupation, which is carrying out all forms of killing and terrorism against our people,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell and Zainah El-Haroun in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; editing by Mark Heinrich)

International Criminal Court rules it has jurisdiction over Palestinian territories

By Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that it has jurisdiction over war crimes or atrocities committed in the Palestinian Territories, paving the way for a criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.

The decision prompted swift reactions from both Israel, which is not a member of the court and again rejected its jurisdiction, and the Palestinian Authority, which welcomed the ruling.

The ICC judges said their decision was based on rules in the Hague-based court’s founding documents and does not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal borders.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in December 2019 there was “a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

She said she intended to open an investigation — as soon as judges ruled on whether the situation fell under the court’s jurisdiction or not.

In a majority ruling published Friday night, the judges said it does.

“The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said.

That Palestine’s status under international law is still uncertain does not matter, the judges said, as it has been admitted to membership of parties to the court.

In a reaction, Human Rights Watch called the decision “pivotal” and said it “finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.

“It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted, saying “the court is ignoring the real war crimes and instead is pursuing Israel, a country with a strong democratic regime, that sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the tribunal.”

He added Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution.

“The court in its decision impairs the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” Netanyahu said.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was a “historic day for the principle of accountability.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as “an important development that contributes in protecting the Palestinian people.”

“We urge the international court to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people,” said Abu Zuhri, who is currently outside Gaza.

The United States has “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, adding the U.S. government was reviewing the ruling.

ICC prosecutor Bensouda was expected to react later on Friday.

The Trump administration had vehemently opposed the ICC and its mission. Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said U.S. President Joe Biden should do nothing to undermine the ICC’s independence.

“It’s important to remember that the ICC investigation would also target Palestinian perpetrators of war crimes in the context of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, especially in the Gaza Strip,” Dakwar said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Anthony Deutsch, Stephanie van den Berg, Ari Rabinovitch, Stephen Farrell, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Arshad Mohammed, Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Daniel Wallis)