Gaza Tunnels Bombed Amidst Intense Diplomacy

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched a "preliminary analysis" on Tuesday to establish whether Israel had committed war crimes in its assault on Gaza, the Jewish state’s warplanes bombed a number of tunnels connecting the strip with Egypt after a rocket launched from the enclave struck the Israeli port city of Ashkelon.

Residents of the Gaza border crossing town of Rafah and Hamas officials said Israeli planes were attacking the tunnels, which have been bombed several times since early January.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket launched earlier onto Ashkelon, which caused no casualties or damage, but prompted Israel to threaten to use "great force" in retaliation.
ICC Mulls War Crimes Probe

Meanwhile, the ICC prosecutor in The Hague said he would need to determine whether there was such a legal entity as a Palestinian state, a precursor to a possible probe of war crimes in Gaza.

The prosecutor said he had received a request from the Palestinian National Authority to investigate the recent assault, Luis Moreno-Ocampo said: "My work is now to analyze this in accordance with (international) law."

Documents also showed that the Palestinian National Authority has recognized the jurisdiction of the ICC, in a move designed to allow investigations of alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Moreno-Ocampo said his office had received more than 150 other "communications" on Gaza from individuals and non-government bodies, as well as from Israeli authorities.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last month called for independent investigations into possible war crimes after Israel’s shelling of a U.N. school compound killed 42 people, including women and children, on Jan. 6.

U.N. officials also said war crimes may have been committed after Israeli tank fire killed two boys in another U.N. school.

Once he makes his decision on Palestinian jurisdiction, the prosecutor would next have to determine whether crimes under the court’s jurisdiction had been committed in Gaza.

Israel has not signed the Rome Statute, which created the ICC. The ICC can investigate alleged war crimes in the territory of a state party, if the U.N. Security Council refers a situation to the court or if a non-state party voluntarily accepts the jurisdiction of the court.

Israel’s 22-day assault last month on Gaza left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead before a ceasefire took effect on Jan. 18. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers of U.S.-allied Arab states meeting in Abu Dhabi said they were seeking to consolidate Arab support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his row with Hamas.

"Our aim is to boost Arab solidarity, to mobilize our backing for the Arab peace initiative and to bolster support for the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas," the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan told Reuters.

Sheikh Abdullah said ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority also backed the Palestine Liberation Organization as the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", after Hamas called for it to be replaced by a body less dominated by allies of Abbas.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for the opening of Gaza’s borders and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad urged Israel to allow cash into the strip to ease the territory’s liquidity crisis.

Meanwhile Fayyad told journalists in the West Bank town of Ramallah: "We are trying to get cash in but Israeli authorities haven’t authorized it so far."

"This situation has largely affected the functioning of the banks whose capacity to respond to the needs of the citizens will remain very limited as long as Israel has not lifted the prohibition to transfer bank notes to Gaza."

Because of the liquidity crisis, Gaza banks limit withdrawals to 800 shekels ($200, €155) a day per person.

Banks in Gaza regularly lack cash because of the blockade Israel imposed after Hamas seized power in June 2007.

Netanyahu, the former prime minister, told residents of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon: "We must smash the Hamas power in Gaza."

"We will act in a way to make it fall and put an end to the threat the rockets present in Ashkelon and other areas of the south," said Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party.

"Over the past year, the blind policies of Kadima have led us to where we are now," he said in reference to the ruling party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni which trails Likud in opinion polls.

( and Agencies)

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