International Court says Israel, Hamas acts on border may be war crimes

JERUSALEM — The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court raised concerns Sunday that Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes during a current flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, Fatou Bensouda’s office expressed ‘‘grave concern’’ over the shootings of Palestinians by Israeli troops during mass protests along Gaza’s border with Israel.

Her office said that Israel’s ‘‘violence against civilians — in a situation such as one prevailing in Gaza’’ may constitute war crimes.

But in an apparent reference to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, she also said ‘‘the use of civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities’’ could also be a war crime.


Bensouda is already in the midst of a ‘‘preliminary examination’’ of possible war crimes, launched after a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. That is the first step toward a formal war crimes investigation.

‘‘While a preliminary examination is not an investigation, any new alleged crime committed in the context of the situation in Palestine may be subjected to my office’s scrutiny,’’ she said. ‘‘This applies to the events of the past weeks and to any future incident.’’

Palestinian health officials say at least 31 people have been killed by Israeli fire, including 25 people killed during protests.

Israel says the protests are a smoke screen for attacks on its troops and attempts to breach the border fence. It says militants have attempted to carry out shootings plant bombs or infiltrate the fence, and that its snipers have only fired at ‘‘instigators’’ trying to carry out attacks.

But witness accounts and amateur videos have shown some demonstrators appeared to be unarmed or far from the fence when they were shot. The European Union and United Nations have called for an independent investigation into the shootings.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that calls for Israel’s destruction, has sought to organize protests until May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding. Palestinians on that date commemorate their mass uprooting during the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.


Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel and its Western allies, has controlled Gaza since ousting forces of internationally recognized President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

On Sunday, Abbas said that unless his government reassumes full control over Gaza, including the rival party’s weapons stockpiles, he will ‘‘not be responsible for what goes on’’ there.

Abbas’s comments dealt another blow to months of US-backed Egyptian efforts to negotiate a deal that would sideline Hamas and enable the Palestinian self-rule government to return to Gaza.

Recent reconciliation efforts by Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas have stalled.

In a separate development Sunday, Israeli police said a Palestinian who tried to stab an Israeli in the West Bank was shot.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the Palestinian was armed with a long screwdriver and was trying to stab the Israeli near the settlement of Mishor Adumim when another Israeli civilian shot the would-be attacker. The wounded Palestinian was taken to hospital in serious condition.

There has been a spike in violence since President Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as their future capital and view Trump’s decision as siding with Israel.