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SHAJA'IAProsecutors at the International Criminal Court are opening a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes by Israel’s forces in Palestine.

The enquiry will determine whether a full investigation, which could result in charges against individuals on either the Israeli or Palestinian side, is merited.

“A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute,” the ICC explained in a statement on Friday.

Even though the ICC did not single out either side in the statement, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the decision was “scandalous” as the enquiry was “solely motivated by political anti-Israel considerations” and would “try to harm Israel’s right to defend itself from terror”.

Lieberman promised, “Israel will act in the international sphere to bring about the dismantling of this court which represents hypocrisy and gives impetus to terror.”

The US backed Israel, with State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke declaring:

We strongly disagree with the ICC prosecutor’s action today. It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighbourhoods, is now being scrutinised by the ICC.

In contrast, Ammar Hijazi, a Palestinian Foreign Ministry official, welcomed the ICC statement:

The gravity aspect is there, as civilians were targeted [in the 2014 war in Gaza]. Palestine is ready to fully cooperate if there are any violations committed during the war by the Palestinian side as well.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki addded, “Everything is going according to plan, no state and nobody can now stop this action we requested….In the end, a full investigation will follow the preliminary one.”

The Palestinian Authority signed documents last month seeking accession to the ICC, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said will be arranged by April.

ICC jurisdiction over Palestinian matters would extend back to June 2014, which means Israeli and Palestinian actions in the Gaza War will be covered. More than 2,300 Palestinians — the vast majority of them civilians — were killed, as were 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.

Israel retaliated against the move by cutting off tax revenues to the Authority.