Israeli PM condemns attempt to arrest him over Gaza war

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vehemently condemned the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor for seeking arrest warrants for him and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict.

Mr. Netanyahu expressed disgust at the comparison of “democratic Israel” to what he described as “mass murderers.”

US President Joe Biden echoed Mr. Netanyahu’s sentiments, stating there was no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

Chief ICC prosecutor Karim Khan stated that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister Yoav Gallant bear criminal responsibility for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

The ICC is also seeking a warrant for Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, for war crimes.

On Monday, Mr Biden said there was “no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas”.

“The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the president’s condemnation, saying Washington “fundamentally rejects” the move. “It is shameful,” he said. “[The] ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter.”

Mr. Blinken also implied that the request for arrest warrants could undermine ongoing efforts to achieve a ceasefire deal.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, additionally sought arrest warrants for Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh, along with the group’s military chief Mohammed Deif.

Khan stated that the alleged crimes began “from at least October 7, 2023,” in the case of the Hamas leaders, when the group initiated its attack on Israel, and “from at least October 8, 2023,” for the Israeli leaders.

The ICC defended its stance on Monday, saying that despite “significant efforts” it had not received “any information that has demonstrated genuine action at the domestic level [in Israel] to address the crimes alleged or the individuals under investigation”.

A panel of judges at the ICC must now decide whether to issue the warrants. If they do, countries that are signatories to the ICC statute are obligated to arrest the individuals if given the opportunity.

Mr Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, condemned the application to seek his arrest as “an absurd and false order”.

In a public statement in Hebrew, he asked “with what audacity” the ICC would “dare to compare” Hamas and Israel.

The comparison was a “distortion of reality”, Mr Netanyahu said.

He accused the prosecutor of “callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging across the world”.

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

Hamas earlier made its own demand for “the cancellation of all arrest warrants issued against leaders of the Palestinian resistance”.

“Hamas strongly denounces the attempts of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner,” the group said.

The group also voiced discontent that the request for warrants against Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gallant was “seven months late,” and that other Israeli political and military leaders had not been implicated alongside them.

The accusations against the Israeli and Hamas leaders originate from the events of October 7, when waves of Hamas gunmen assaulted Israel, resulting in approximately 1,200 fatalities and 252 individuals being taken back to Gaza as hostages. This assault ignited the ongoing conflict, in which at least 35,500 Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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