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Dutch Palestinian seeks war crimes damages from Israel's Gantz

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Dutch Palestinian who lost six relatives during a 2014 bombing of Gaza sought compensation on Tuesday from former Israeli armed forces chief Benny Gantz, who is contesting a tight election against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Leader of Blue and White party, Benny Gantz looks on as he arrives to vote in Israel's parliamentary election at a polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

With voting underway in Israel where Gantz and Netanyahu’s parties have been neck-and-neck, Ismail Ziada invoked “universal jurisdiction” laws in a request for a Netherlands court to hear a civil suit against the ex-military head for war crimes.

Ziada wants compensation of 600,000 euros ($660,000) for the deaths of his mother, three brothers, sister-in-law and nephew when the family’s home in the al-Bureij refugee camp was bombed by forces under Gantz’s command.

“I struggle to stand in front of you today to gain justice and accountability,” Ziada told Dutch judges, referring to the “unspeakable tragedy” that befell his family.

Thom Dieben, a lawyer on behalf of Gantz and his co-defendant, former Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel, told the court the case should be dismissed because it violated state sovereignty rules and Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction.

“The Israeli courts are the appropriate forum for the complainant to file his case,” Dieben said.

He also argued that the defendants have immunity from prosecution because the deaths occurred while they were carrying out official government functions.

The bombing of the Ziadi residence occurred during a seven-week conflict in which, according to Gaza health officials, 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed.

Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians, and said its forces exercised restraint while confronting militants in densely populated areas.

Codified under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, universal jurisdiction allows domestic courts to prosecute individuals for serious crimes that did not take place on their territory or were committed by their nationals.

However, prior attempts to prosecute Israeli officials under universal jurisdiction have failed.

Ziada told judges that Israel had put in place a “system of occupation, oppression and denial of rights” for Palestinians.

“If immunity is rewarded, I effectively have no recourse to justice at all,” he said.

Liesbeth Zegveld, Ziada’s lawyer, dismissed defense attorney Dieben’s claim of immunity, citing jurisprudence in past Dutch criminal cases that successfully applied universal jurisdiction in Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Suriname.

Judges then adjourned for deliberations and said a ruling on would be rendered on Jan. 29, 2020.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne