Israel aims to contain fallout from arrest warrant request backed by some allies

21 May 2024, 12:34

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel Palestinians ICC Arrest Warrants. Picture: PA

France, Belgium and Slovenia each backed the move by International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday.

Israel’s foreign minister is heading to France in a bid to contain the fallout from the decision by the prosecutor of the world court to request arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders.

France, as well as Belgium and Slovenia, each said on Monday they backed the move by International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan, who accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh – of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Their support exposes divisions in the West’s approach to Israel and deepens the country’s global isolation over its conduct in the war in Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh
Ismail Haniyeh is the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz’s meetings with his French counterpart and other senior officials could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants – if they are eventually issued – and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders.

Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant. Israel itself is not a member of the court.

As the fallout from the prosecutor’s decision spiralled, violence continued in the region, with an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank killing at least seven Palestinians, including a local doctor, according to Palestinian health officials.

In a late night statement on Monday about the ICC prosecutor’s warrant requests, France said it “supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations”.

“France has been warning for many months about the imperative of strict compliance with international humanitarian law and in particular about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and insufficient humanitarian access,” the statement said.

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

France has a large Jewish community and has close trade and diplomatic ties with Israel, whose leaders frequently visit.

Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib said in a post on X that “crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators”.

Mr Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the prosecutor’s move as disgraceful and antisemitic. US President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. The United Kingdom called the move “not helpful”, saying the ICC does not have jurisdiction in the case, while Israeli ally Czech Republic called Mr Khan’s decision “appalling and completely unacceptable”.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel has faced rising criticism from even its closest allies over the war in Gaza, which is now in its eighth month. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not distinguish between non-combatants and fighters in its count. The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has displaced much of the coastal enclave’s population and driven parts of it to starvation, which Mr Khan said Israel used as a “method of warfare”.

The war began on October 7, following Hamas’s deadly attack, when the militants from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. Mr Khan accused Hamas’s leaders of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.

Since the war began, violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank.

On Tuesday, an Israeli raid into the Jenin refugee camp and the adjacent city of Jenin killed at least seven Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The area has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israel.

Damage caused by an air strike in Jenin
Jenin has been a frequent target of Israeli raids (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The military said its forces struck militants during the operation while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group said its fighters battled the Israeli forces.

However, according to Wissam Abu Baker, the director of Jenin Governmental Hospital, the medical centre’s surgery specialist Ossayed Kamal Jabareen was among the dead. He was killed on his way to work, Mr Abu Baker said.

Jenin and the refugee camp, seen as a hotbed of militancy, have been frequent targets of Israeli raids, long before Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza broke out.

Since the start of the war, nearly 500 Palestinians have been killed in West Bank fighting, many of them militants, as well as others throwing stones or explosives at troops. Others not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.

Israel says it is cracking down on soaring militancy in the territory, pointing to a spike in attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. It has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians since the start of the war in Gaza.

By Press Association

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