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Netanyahu reacts, as ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Israeli, Hamas leaders

Netanyahu reacts, as ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Israeli, Hamas leaders

The International Criminal Court (ICC’s) prosecutor said on Monday he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence chief and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement issued after more than seven months of war in Gaza that he had reasonable grounds to believe the five men “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He said he had applied for an arrest warrant for Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as well as for Netanyahu. They have overseen Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly Oct. 7 raid on Israel.

READ ALSO: Russia kicks as ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine

Khan has also applied for arrest warrants for Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar; Mohammed Al-Masri, the commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas who is widely known as Deif; and Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau.

A panel of pre-trial judges will determine whether the evidence supports the arrest warrants. But the court has no means to enforce such warrants, and its investigation into the Gaza war has been opposed by the United States and Israel.

Israel and Palestinian leaders have dismissed allegations of war crimes, and representatives for both sides criticised Khan’s decision.

Netanyahu reacts

“I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” Netanyahu said, calling the move a “complete distortion of reality.”

U.S. President Joe Biden called the legal step “outrageous”, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it could jeopardize negotiations on a hostage deal and ceasefire.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the prosecutor’s decision to request warrants for the three Hamas leaders “equates the victim with the executioner”. Hamas demanded the arrest warrant request for its leaders be canceled.

Criminal responsibility

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over alleged war crimes in the Ukraine war, but Monday’s step was the first time Khan has sought to intervene in the conflict in the Middle East.

“Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population,” Khan said. “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

He said crimes against humanity allegedly carried out by Israel were part of “a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy.”

“These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” he said.

Evidence his office collected showed Israel had systematically deprived civilians of “objects indispensable to human survival” including food, water, medicine and energy, he said. Netanyahu and Gallant bore responsibility, he said, for Israel wilfully causing great suffering and for killing as a war crime.

The Hamas leaders face allegations of bearing responsibility for crimes committed by Hamas including extermination and murder, the taking of hostages, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence.

“Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a blood-thirsty terror organisation (Hamas) is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said.

 

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