ICC prosecutor seeks arrest of Israeli PM, Hamas leaders

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The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in Gaza for war crimes.

Karim Khan KC stated that there are reasonable grounds to believe both men are criminally responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity from the time of Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 onward.

Additionally, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh, and the group’s military chief Mohammed Deif are also sought for arrest.

ICC judges will now evaluate whether the evidence is sufficient to issue arrest warrants, a process that could take weeks or months.

Mr. Netanyahu stated in a response that he “rejects with disgust The Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas.”

US President Joe Biden called the ICC prosecutor’s move “outrageous.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz described Mr. Khan’s action as an “unrestrained frontal assault” on the victims of the October 7 attacks and a “historical disgrace that will be remembered forever.”

He announced the establishment of a special command center to counter the decision, claiming it aimed to restrain Israel and deny its right to self-defense.

Hamas demanded the “cancellation of all arrest warrants issued against leaders of the Palestinian resistance” and condemned what it termed Mr. Khan’s “attempts to equate the victim with the executioner.”

The group also criticized the application for warrants against Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gallant as “seven months late” and noted that other Israeli political and military leaders were not named.

Mr Khan accused the Hamas leaders of having committed crimes including extermination, murder, hostage taking, rape and sexual violence, and torture.

“The crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas and other armed groups,” he said in a statement.

“Some of these crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.”

Hamas, he said, had inflicted “unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness”.

He said Israel’s prime minister and defence minister were suspected of crimes including starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, murder, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, and extermination.

Mr Khan said his office had evidence that Israel had “intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival”.

Israel, he said, has a right to defend itself but not by “intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population” which he said were criminal acts.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz – a political rival of Mr Netanyahu – denounced the prosecutor’s decision.

“Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a bloodthirsty terror organisation is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” he said.

The accusations against the Israeli and Hamas leaders stem from the events of October 7, when waves of Hamas gunmen attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking 252 others hostage to Gaza. This attack triggered the current war, in which at least 35,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Neither Israel nor Qatar are members of the ICC, but the Palestinian territories were admitted as a member state in 2015. If warrants are issued, the ICC would depend on member countries to carry out arrests.

No Western-style democracy has ever had an ICC arrest warrant issued for its leader. If Mr. Netanyahu becomes the first, it would deeply alarm Israel and its allies, and test the powers and limitations of the ICC.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also issued a statement rejecting the ICC’s announcement, stating that the court “has no jurisdiction over this matter” in the eyes of the US.