International Criminal Court seeks arrest warrant for Netanyahu and Hamas chiefs

20 May 2024, 15:14

Benjamin Netanyahu
ICC seeks Netanyahu for war crimes. Picture: PA

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan said Mr Netanyahu was responsible for war crimes.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war.

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

Speaking of the Israeli actions, Mr 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.”

He added: “They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women.”

Of the Hamas actions on October 7, he 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.”

Israel’s foreign minister said the court’s decision to seek arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is “a historic disgrace that will be remembered forever”.

Israel Katz 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.

Mr Khan must request the warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take two months on average to consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

Israel is not a member of the court, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (AP)

But Mr Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

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

Benny Gantz, a former military chief and member of Israel’s war cabinet with Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant, harshly criticised Mr Khan’s announcement, saying Israel fights with “one of the strictest” moral codes and has a robust judiciary capable of investigating itself.

Yoav Gallant
Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant (AP)

He said: “The State of Israel is waging one of the just wars fought in modern history following a reprehensible massacre perpetrated by terrorist Hamas on October 7,” he said.

“The prosecutor’s position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportion to be remembered for generations.”

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

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

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 criticised the court for seeking the arrests of only two Israeli leaders and said it should seek warrants for other senior Israeli figures.

Israel launched its war in response to a cross-border attack by Hamas on October 7 last year that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 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 UN officials.

By Press Association

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