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May 9, 2014

Watchdogs urge Palestinians to turn to world court

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Leading international human rights groups urged the Palestinians on Thursday to seek access to the International Criminal Court and end what they say is a lack of accountability for serious crimes by both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This includes accountability for acts of torture, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and Israeli settlement expansion on occupied lands, the groups wrote in a joint letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Seventeen groups signed the appeal, including international watchdogs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and 13 Palestinian organizations.

Since the U.N. General Assembly recognized a "state of Palestine" as a non-member observer in 2012, Abbas has had the option of seeking access to the ICC in The Hague.

However, the United States and Israel have strenuously objected to Palestine trying to join international agencies and conventions, saying it is an attempt to bypass peace talks.

Abbas froze such efforts during nearly nine months of U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel.

The talks ended without progress in April — the latest failed attempt in 20 years to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state next to Israel. The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Joe Stork of the Human Rights Watch said claims that the Palestinians would disrupt peace efforts if they go to the ICC ring hollow "when 20 years of peace talks have brought neither peace nor justice to victims of war crimes."

The Palestinians say they are eligible for membership in 63 international agencies, conventions and institutions, including the ICC. Abbas acceded to 15 conventions in early April, nearly a full month before the talks collapsed, after Israel failed to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as it had promised.

In the West Bank, Abbas told Palestine TV in an interview broadcast Thursday that "all international organizations are open to us," but he did not specifically mention the ICC.

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