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Palestinian area war crimes probe

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary probe into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories.

Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that she will conduct the preliminary examination in "full independence and impartiality".

The announcement comes after the Palestinian Authority acceded to the court's founding treaty and recognised its jurisdiction dating back to the eve of last summer's Gaza war.

That move opened the door to an ICC investigation that could target possible crimes by Israel, which is not a member of the court, and also Palestinians.

A preliminary examination is not an investigation, but weighs information about possible crimes and jurisdiction issues to establish whether a full investigation is merited.

Any full-scale investigation into possible war crimes could plunge the court into the most politically charged conflict it has investigated.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents to join the ICC a day after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on December 30 that would have set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.

Joining the ICC is part of a broader Palestinian strategy to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the occupied territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood.

Mr Abbas had been under heavy domestic pressure to take stronger action against Israel after the 50-day war between the Jewish state and militants in Gaza over the summer, tensions over holy sites in Jerusalem and the failure of the last round of US-led peace talks.

Ms Bensouda cast the decision to open a preliminary probe as procedural following the Palestinians' recognition of the court. It is unclear how long the preliminary examination might take. She said "there are no timelines" in the court's founding treaty.

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