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ICC Chief Prosecutor Seeks Arrest Warrants for Leaders of Israel and Hamas

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Monday that 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.

While Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, do not face immediate arrest, the announcement by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan symbolically deepens Israel’s isolation over the Gaza war.

Khan accused Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. U.S. President Joe Biden also criticized the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

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

Israel is not a member of the ICC, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face immediate prosecution. However, the threat of arrest could complicate their international travel.

Netanyahu called the prosecutor’s accusations against him a “disgrace” and an attack on the Israeli military and all of Israel. He vowed to continue Israel’s war against Hamas militants.

President Biden said the ICC prosecutor’s intent to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant was “outrageous,” adding that there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas also denounced the ICC prosecutor’s request to arrest its leaders, claiming it “equates the victim with the executioner.”

Netanyahu faces significant domestic pressure to end the war. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations urging the government to negotiate the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

In recent days, Netanyahu’s war cabinet colleagues, Gallant and Benny Gantz, have threatened to resign if he does not present a clear postwar strategy for Gaza.

On Monday, Netanyahu received broad support from politicians across the spectrum who condemned the ICC prosecutor’s move, including Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, and political rivals Gantz and Yair Lapid.

The potential arrest warrant could further weaken Netanyahu’s international standing. Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at Hebrew University, noted that even if the ICC does not issue the warrant, other countries might now be more reluctant to support Israel.

Hamas leaders Sinwar and Deif are believed to be in hiding in Gaza, while Haniyeh, based in Qatar, frequently travels across the region. Qatar, like Israel, is not a member of the ICC.

The latest war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, when Gaza militants crossed into Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 250 hostages. Since then, Israel has conducted a campaign to dismantle Hamas, resulting in over 35,000 Palestinian deaths, according to Gaza health officials.

The war has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with 80% of the population displaced and many on the brink of starvation, according to U.N. officials.

Khan emphasized the severe effects of the conflict on Gaza’s civilian population, including malnutrition and dehydration. The U.N. and aid agencies have accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries, a claim Israel denies.

Khan also highlighted the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7, describing scenes of attacks and profound impacts, demanding accountability for the crimes.

Israel also faces a genocide case in the International Court of Justice brought by South Africa, which Israel denies.

The ICC, established in 2002, prosecutes individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and aggression. While the U.N. General Assembly endorsed the ICC, dozens of countries, including Israel, the United States, Russia, and China, do not accept its jurisdiction.

The ICC accepted “The State of Palestine” as a member in 2015, and in 2021, the then-chief prosecutor announced an investigation into possible crimes on Palestinian territory. Israel has consistently accused U.N. and international bodies of bias.

In 2020, then U.S. President Donald Trump authorized sanctions against ICC officials investigating U.S. troops for war crimes in Afghanistan. President Biden lifted these sanctions in 2021.

Last year, the ICC issued a warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the abductions of children from Ukraine, to which Russia responded by issuing its own arrest warrants for ICC officials.

Source: The Associated Press

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