Israel PM asks justice minister to build defense against Gaza war crimes claims

Israel PM asks justice minister to build defense against Gaza war crimes claims

[JURIST] Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website] on Thursday placed justice minister Daniel Friedman [official profile] in charge of defending Israel against war crimes charges stemming from the conflict in Gaza [BBC backgrounder]. Olmert appointed Friedman to head an inter-ministerial team to investigate [Ynet report] and form a legal defense against potential war crimes charges for the civilians and military personnel involved in Israel's 22-day assault on Gaza. The attacks have garnered international condemnation by the UN and the European Union [JURIST reports], and on Monday Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] accused Israel of war crimes [press release, JURIST report], citing the use of white phosphorous [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in the midst of a dense civilian population. Following the advocacy group's accusation, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] demanded [statement] on Tuesday that those responsible for bombing UN buildings in Palestinian territory be held responsible for using excessive force. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak [official profile] explained in a statement that the government must give defense to those involved in the attacks, as they were following government orders in Operation Cast Lead.

Last week, International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said that the ICC lacks jurisdiction [JURIST report] to investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. Moreno-Ocampo's statement came after calls by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy website] for the UN Security Council [official website] to refer Israel to the ICC for an investigation. Moreno-Ocampo said the court currently lacks jurisdiction over Israel because it is not a member state.