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ICC Seeks Arrest Warrants for Israeli, Hamas Leaders for War Crimes

May 20, 2024

In a landmark move, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan KC, has announced the application for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. The warrants are based on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and Hamas since 7 October 2023.

In a statement, Khan stated that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that both Netanyahu and Sinwar, along with other high-ranking officials from both sides, bear criminal responsibility for the atrocities committed in the conflict.

The charges against the Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed al-Masri, pertain to crimes committed from at least October 7, 2023. The Israeli leaders, Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, are accused of crimes starting from October 8, 2023.

The alleged crimes committed by Hamas include extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape, torture, and other inhumane acts. These actions are claimed to have targeted the civilian population of Israel as part of a widespread and systematic attack. “These crimes demand accountability,” Khan emphasized in his statement, highlighting the severe impact on Israeli civilians.

Similarly, Netanyahu and Gallant are accused of using starvation as a method of warfare, causing great suffering, and directing attacks against civilians in Gaza. The ICC prosecutor’s office alleges that these actions were part of a state policy aimed at eliminating Hamas, securing the return of hostages, and collectively punishing the civilian population of Gaza.

In response to the ICC’s announcement, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared that a special committee will be established by Israel to fight against the court’s decision. Katz criticized the ICC’s move as a “historical disgrace”, asserting that the decision aims to tie Israel’s hands and deny it the right to self-defense. “No power in the world” will stop Israel from getting hostages home and taking down Hamas, he stated, adding that he plans to engage with international counterparts to oppose the prosecutor’s decision.

Similarly, Israeli politicians have swiftly condemned the ICC’s move. War cabinet minister Benny Gantz denounced the decision, calling it a “deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy.” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid described the announcement as “a disaster” and insisted that Israel is engaged in a just war.

Meanwhile, in a statement to Reuters, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said that the arrest warrants for Hamas’ leaders “equates the victim with the executioner” and will encourage Israel to continue its “extermination” of Palestinians.

The ICC’s applications for arrest warrants are based on extensive evidence, including eyewitness testimonies, medical records, video footage, and satellite imagery. Khan expressed gratitude to the survivors and families of victims who provided accounts of the crimes.

As the international community watches closely, the ICC’s decision underscores the ongoing struggle for accountability and justice in one of the world’s most protracted conflicts. The outcome of the court’s deliberations and the response of the international community will significantly influence the pursuit of justice in the region.

The ICC, established to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, faces a challenging path ahead as it navigates the complex geopolitical landscape surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A number of leading US senators warned the ICC prosecutor earlier this month that if the ICC “targets Israel”, the senators “will target” the ICC. The warning was sent in a letter signed by a dozen Republican senators, including Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell, Rick Scott, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.

Since October 7, 2023, the continuous Israeli assault on Gaza has led to 35,386 documented Palestinian deaths and 79,366 injuries, according to local health authorities. Among the victims, a significant majority are women and children

Read the full statement by the ICC prosecutor here.

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