Politics & News

ICC Prosecutor Applies for Arrest Warrants Against Netanyahu, Hamas Leaders

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said on Monday that he was filing applications for arrest warrants over alleged war crimes in Gaza.

The ICC prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three senior Hamas leaders: Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri (Deif), and Ismail Haniyeh.

War Crimes

In a statement, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said that he had reasonable grounds to believe that Netanyahu, Gallant and Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Gaza Strip” from October 2023.

Khan noted that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival. He said: “We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as 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.”

ICC Prosecutor Applies for Arrest Warrants Against Netanyahu, Hamas Leaders
Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant

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

“Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza – namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal,” he said.

On the other hand, Hamas leaders bear responsibility for crimes including extermination, murder, taking hostages, and acts of sexual violence.

Khan said: “We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas and other armed groups pursuant to organizational policies. Some of these crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.”

Accusations Denial

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders denied the alleged crimes, criticizing Khan’s decision, reported Reuters. Netanyahu called the move a “complete distortion of reality.” He said: “I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas.”

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

Meanwhile, Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, said the request of arrest warrants for Hamas leaders “equates the victim with the executioner.”

International Reaction

The US strongly denounced the ICC’s efforts to seek arrest warrants for Israeli officials, calling it “outrageous.” US President Joe Biden said in a statement on Monday: “Let me be clear, whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas.”

Similarly, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the US “fundamentally rejects” the ICC’s announcement, suggesting it “could jeopardize” efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage deal, reported CNN.

Likewise, other US allies condemned Khan’s decision. Britain said the ICC’s efforts were “not helpful in reaching a pause in fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in.” Italy called the court’s move “unacceptable.”

In a major split with its Western allies, France backed the ICC’s announcement. The French Foreign Ministry said: “France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

Paris said it had warned Israel “of the need for strict compliance with international humanitarian law, and in particular of the unacceptable level of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip and inadequate humanitarian access.”

Arrest Warrants Implications

Khan’s announcement marks the first time the ICC has sought an arrest warrant for the leader of a top US ally. The court’s decision would oblige the ICC’s 124 member nations to cooperate to extradite those subjected to the arrest warrants.

Despite the US and Israel not being members of the ICC, the decision would make it extremely difficult for Netanyahu and Gallant to travel to the court’s member countries, including some US allies such as Britain and Germany.

Meanwhile, two Hamas leaders, Sinwar and Deif, are believed to be in Gaza, while Haniyeh is in Qatar, a non-signatory to the Rome Statute.

ICC Prosecutor Applies for Arrest Warrants Against Netanyahu, Hamas Leaders.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Signatory states have an obligation to arrest those sought by ICC’s arrest warrants. The court does not have an enforcement mechanism and relies on its member countries’ support for arrests.

If the suspect appears before the court, he goes through a pre-trial for the court to decide if there’s enough evidence to go to trial. After that, a trial takes place before three ICC judges, in which they must prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the suspect is guilty of the crimes.

If they issue a verdict, the person can face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, and under exceptional circumstances, a life sentence.

ICC Jurisdiction

Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC. However, that does not mean that the court cannot prosecute Israel’s citizens.

In March 2021, the ICC launched a probe into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction on the conflict. Khan said the investigation “is ongoing and extends to the escalation of hostilities and violence since the attacks that took place on 7 October 2023.”

The court admitted the Palestinian territories with the status of a member state in 2015. Hence, the ICC has jurisdiction over Gaza and other Palestinian territories. In October, Khan said that alleged crimes committed by Israel in Gaza, or by Hamas in Israel, fall under the court’s jurisdiction.

Since Israel launched its brutal military campaign on Gaza in October 2023, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, over half of Gaza’s population has been internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.

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