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ICC Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas Leaders
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
May 20, 2024

The ICC chief prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes during the Israel-Hamas conflict, exacerbating Israel's isolation and highlighting the war's severe humanitarian toll. (AP File)

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JERUSALEM — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over actions taken during their seven-month war.

Khan Believes That War Crimes Have Been Committed

Karim Khan said that he believes Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

A panel of three judges will consider the prosecutor’s evidence and determine whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed.

Israel is not a member of the court, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead in Gaza, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Israeli Government Fights Back

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the chief prosecutor’s decision to seek arrest warrants against Israel’s leaders is “a historic disgrace that will be remembered forever.”

He said he would form a special committee to fight back against any such action and would work with world leaders to ensure that any such warrants are not enforced on Israel’s leaders.

The Hamas militant group denounced the ICC prosecutor’s request to seek the arrests of its leaders.

Benny Gantz, a former military chief and member of Israel’s War Cabinet with Netanyahu and Gallant, harshly criticized Khan’s announcement, saying Israel fights with “one of the strictest” moral codes, respects international law and has a robust judiciary capable of investigating itself.

“The State of Israel is waging one of the just wars fought in modern history following a reprehensible massacre perpetrated by terrorist Hamas on the 7th of October,” he said. “The prosecutor’s position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportion to be remembered for generations.

Israeli Opposition Also Condemns ICC

Other Israeli leaders, including opposition leader Yair Lapid, also condemned the ICC prosecutor.

In a statement, Hamas accused the prosecutor of trying to “equate the victim with the executioner.” It said it has the right to resist Israeli occupation, including “armed resistance.”

It also criticized the court for seeking the arrests of only two Israeli leaders and said it should seek warrants for other Israeli leaders.

Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza as Israel tries to hunt them down. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region.

The Latest on the War

The latest war between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7, when militants from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage.

The Israeli offensive has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, at least half of them women and children, according to the latest estimates by Gaza health officials. The Israeli offensive has also triggered a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, displacing roughly 80% of the population and leaving hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of starvation, according to U.N. officials.

Speaking of the Israeli actions, Khan said in a statement that “the effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known. … They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women.”

The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries throughout the war. Israel denies this, saying there are no restrictions on aid entering Gaza and accusing the United Nations of failing to distribute aid. The U.N. says aid workers have repeatedly come under Israeli fire, and also says ongoing fighting and a security vacuum have impeded deliveries.

Of the Hamas actions on Oct. 7, Khan, who visited the region in December, said that he saw for himself “the devastating scenes of these attacks and the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes charged in the applications filed today. Speaking with survivors, I heard how the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness. These acts demand accountability.”

After a brief period of international support for its war, Israel has faced increasing criticism as the war has dragged on and the death toll has climbed.

Israel Also Faces Accusations of Genocide

Israel is also facing a South African case in the International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s top court, accusing Israel of genocide. Israel denies those charges.

The ICC was established in 2002 as the permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals responsible for the world’s most heinous atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression.

The U.N. General Assembly endorsed the ICC, but the court is independent.

Dozens of countries don’t accept the court’s jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and other crimes. They include Israel, the United States, Russia and China.

The ICC becomes involved when nations are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes on their territory. Israel argues it has a functioning court system.

The ICC accepted “The State of Palestine” as a member in 2015, a year after the Palestinians accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

The court’s chief prosecutor at the time announced in 2021 that she was opening an investigation into possible crimes on Palestinian territory. Israel often levies accusations of bias at U.N. and international bodies, and Netanyahu condemned the decision as hypocritical and antisemitic.

In 2020, then U.S. President Donald Trump authorized economic and travel sanctions on the ICC prosecutor and another senior prosecutor. The ICC staff were looking into U.S. and allies’ troops for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

U.S. President Joe Biden, whose administration has provided crucial military and political support for the Gaza offensive, lifted the sanctions in 2021.

Last year, the court issued a warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. Russia responded by issuing its own arrest warrants for Khan and ICC judges.

Other high-profile leaders charged by the court include ousted Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir on allegations including genocide in his country’s Darfur region. Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed by rebels shortly after the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest on charges linked to the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011.

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