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ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli, Hamas leaders

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu
5 min read
ICC head Karim Khan said that he believes Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders are guilty of war crimes related to the Gaza-Israel war
Netanyahu has led Israel into its most brutal military assault on Gaza to date [Getty]

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor's decision on Monday to seek arrest warrants against the country's prime minister and defence minister was "beyond outrageous" and would embolden terrorists around the world.

"Any attempt to draw parallels between these atrocious terrorists and a democratically elected government of Israel - working to fulfill its duty to defend and protect its citizens entirely in adherence to the principles of international law – is outrageous and cannot be excepted by anyone," Herzog said. 

The chief prosecutor of the ICC said on Monday 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 between Israel and Hamas.

Karim Khan said that he believes Netanyahu, his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders - Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The prosecutor must request the warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take on average two months 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, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution.

One of the expert lawyers involved with Khan's application was revealed to be top human rights barrister Amal Clooney, the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced on Monday shortly after the ICC's statement.

British-Lebanese Clooney has been reviewing Khan's application alongside a panel of senior judges and barristers for arrest warrants to ascertain if the warrants meet the conditions of the international court, the foundation said.

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.

Several Israeli and Palestinian figures have deplored Khan since the announcement on Monday. Foreign minister Israel Katz said the ICC move against Israeli leaders was a "historic disgrace".

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged Netanyahu to ignore the ICC and Khan, deeming both antisemitic, and said the Gaza war should be ramped up until Hamas' defeat. 

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef said the prosecutor's office requesting arrest warrants for Hamas leaders was a "confusion between the victim and the executioner".

"The ICC is required to issue arrest warrants against Israeli officials who continue committing genocide crimes in the Gaza Strip," Abu Youssef said.

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

In a statement on Monday, Hamas said it denounced the ICC's decision to call for the arrest of its senior leaders, saying it was equating "the victim with the executioner".

It is "in violation of the international conventions and resolutions that gave the Palestinian people and all the peoples of the world under occupation the right to resist the occupation in all forms. Including armed resistance, especially the United Nations Charter, as stipulated in Article 51."

It added that it "demands the cancellation of all arrest warrants issued against leaders of the Palestinian resistance, for violating UN conventions and resolutions."

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Speaking of the Israeli actions, 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. ... They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women".

Several analysts said that the possibility of the ICC issuing arrest warrants against Israel's leaders marked a "moral victory" for Palestinians.

Sonia Boulos, associate professor of  international human rights law at Antonio de Nebrija University told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition that it is "a first step towards achieving justice" for Palestinian victims.

In her opinion, the issuance of arrest warrants is also "another blow to Israel's image, which will not only delegitimize its aggression on Gaza but also criminalise it".

The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries throughout the war. Israel denies this, saying there are no restrictions on aid entering Gaza and accusing the United Nations of failing to distribute aid. Israel has closed border entries to Gaza and seized the Palestinian-Israeli crossing of Gaza, a major route for aid, leading Cairo to close its side of the border.

The UN says aid workers have repeatedly come under Israeli fire, and also says ongoing fighting and a security vacuum have impeded deliveries.

After a brief period of international support for its war, Israel has faced increasing criticism as the war has dragged on and the civilian death toll and suffering has climbed to unprecedented levels.

Hassan Jabareen director of Adalah Legal Centre explained to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the ICC case is investigating "war crimes, not genocide".

"It seems that the ICC prosecutor will leave the genocide issue for the International Court of Justice to handle."

Israel is also facing a South African case in the International Court of Justice accusing it of genocidal acts in its war on Gaza, which Israel denies.

Jabareen said that charges of war crimes are "easier to prove against the Israelis because if there is a serious and fundamental impact on civilians and civilian places such as hospitals, universities, and schools, and on non-combatants in a disproportionate manner, these are considered war crimes.

"It is evident that the majority of the dead in Gaza are women, children, and non-combatants, something even Israel itself acknowledges, making it easy for the prosecutor to prove this."