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Posted: Friday, January 02, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – In a move certain to anger Israel and Washington, the Palestinians on Friday delivered to U.N. headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and more than a dozen other international treaties.

The chief Palestinian observer, Riyad Mansour, and U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed the handover at the United Nations. It is a step that will likely further exacerbate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and could lead to reductions in U.S. aid or U.S. sanctions.

“This is a very significant step,” Mansour told reporters. “It is an option that we are seeking in order to seek justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”

The U.N. press office issued a statement saying the Palestinians had delivered documentation to join 16 international treaties. “The documents are being reviewed with a view to determining the appropriate next steps,” it said.

According to the Rome Statute, the Palestinians will become a party to the court on the first day of the month that follows a 60-day waiting period after depositing signed and ratified documents of accession with the United Nations in New York.

The ICC move paves the way for the court to take jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestinian lands and investigate the conduct of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders over more than a decade of bloody conflict. Neither Israel nor the United States belongs to the ICC.

Mansour said the Palestinians have also formally requested retroactive ICC jurisdiction “with regard to the crimes committed during the last war in Gaza.” He was referring to Israel’s 50-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip this past summer.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed in the July-August war.

Regarding the threat of possible U.S. sanctions or cuts in aid for joining the ICC, Mansour said: “It is really puzzling when you seek justice through a legal approach to be punished for doing so.”

The United States has said the move was of deep concern and unhelpful to peace efforts in the region.

“It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “Actions like this are not the answer.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas’ action would expose the Palestinians to prosecution over support for what he called the terrorist Hamas Islamist group and vowed to take steps to rebuff any potential moves against Israel.

“We will take steps in response and defend Israel’s soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued on Thursday.

U.S. officials say that around $400 million in annual aid could be in jeopardy after the Palestinian move to join The Hague-based court, which looks at cases of severe war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

The other signed treaties the Palestinians delivered to the United Nations include the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, two additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Palestinian government signed the Rome Statute on Wednesday, a day after a bid for independence by 2017 failed at the U.N. Security Council.

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built up since Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Dan Grebler)

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