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ICC prosecutor applies for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leaders

ICC rebuked for seeking Netanyahu arrest warrant
Biden rebukes ICC request for Netanyahu arrest warrant 02:33

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said Monday that he was filing applications for arrest warrants at the ICC for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, in addition to three senior Hamas leaders. The Hamas leaders listed by Khan are the group's overall political leader Ismail Haniyeh, its military commander in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar and the overall leader of the group's military wing, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri.

The applications will be reviewed by ICC judges, who will determine whether the standard for the issuance of arrest warrants has been met amid Israel's ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza

"Today we once again underline that international law and the laws of armed conflict apply to all," Khan said in a statement. "No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader — no one — can act with impunity. Nothing can justify wilfully depriving human beings, including so many women and children, the basic necessities required for life. Nothing can justify the taking of hostages or the targeting of civilians."

The warrants come after a months-long investigation into both Hamas' Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel and Israel's military response in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, long designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel, had ruled over Gaza for almost two decades when the current war began.

In a statement on Monday, President Biden called the move by the ICC "outrageous."

"Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas," Mr. Biden said. "We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security."

Israel and Hamas react to ICC prosecutor request for arrest warrants

Both Israeli officials and Hamas also criticised the ICC chief prosecutor's move.

In a video statement on social media on Monday, Netanyahu said that the ICC actions were "a moral outrage of historic proportions."

"Mr. Khan creates a twisted and false moral equivalency between the leaders of Israel and the henchmen of Hamas. This is like creating a moral equivalence after September 11th between President Bush and Osama bin Laden," Netanyahu said.

The Israeli prime minister said Khan was "callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging across the world. Through this incendiary decision, Mr. Khan takes his place among the great antisemites of modern times."

In a statement on Tuesday, Gallant said, "the parallel he has drawn between the Hamas terrorist organization and the State of Israel is despicable. The State of Israel is not a party to the Court and does not recognize its authority. Prosecutor Karim Khan's attempt to deny the State of Israel the right to defend herself and ensure the release of the hostages held in Gaza, must be rejected explicitly."

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the announcement was, "beyond outrageous, and shows the extent to which the international judicial system is in danger of collapsing."

Herzog said the move "emboldens terrorists around the world, and violates all the basic rules of the court... Any attempt to draw parallels between these atrocious terrorists and the democratically elected government of Israel — working to fulfil its duty to defend and protect its citizens entirely in adherence to the principles of international law — is outrageous and cannot be accepted by anyone."

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group that represents the families of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza, applauded the ICC move against Hamas, but said it was "not comfortable with the equivalence drawn between Israel's leadership and the terrorists of Hamas. We believe the way to prove this distinction to the world is by immediately entering into negotiations that will free the hostages — the living for rehabilitation, and the deceased for burial."

Hamas also rejected the ICC prosecutor's move, saying in a statement that it, "creates equality between the victims and the executioner," and it called on the court to reverse its decision, according to the Reuters news agency.

What crimes are Netanyahu and Gallant accused of?

Khan said his team believes Netanyahu and Gallant bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including starvation of civilians, willfully causing great suffering, willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, extermination and/or murder, persecution and other inhumane acts during the war against Hamas.

"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," Khan said.

He said his office collected evidence including survivor and witness testimony and authenticated video that "shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival."

"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. 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."

Health officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory say Israel's aerial and ground operation in Gaza since Oct. 7 has killed more than 35,000 people, most of them women and children.

Netanyahu has acknowledged a death toll in Gaza of 30,000 people, but says about half of those killed have been militants.

What crimes are Sinwar, Hineyah and Al-Masri being accused of?

Khan said his team believes Sinwar, Haniyeh and Al-Masri bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity including extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape and other acts of sexual violence, torture, other inhumane acts, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity.

"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 organisational policies. Some of these crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day," Khan said.

He said his office interviewed victims and survivors and collected evidence including videos, and found that, "these individuals planned and instigated the commission of crimes on 7 October 2023, and have through their own actions, including personal visits to hostages shortly after their kidnapping, acknowledged their responsibility for those crimes," Khan said.

Khan said that looking at medical records, video evidence and interviews with victims and survivors, his office believes "there are reasonable grounds to believe that hostages taken from Israel have been kept in inhumane conditions, and that some have been subject to sexual violence, including rape, while being held in captivity," Khan said, noting that his office was still investigating "reports of sexual violence committed on 7 October."

Hamas killed about 1,200 people in its unprecedented assault and kidnapped roughly 240 others, about 100 of whom are still believed to be alive and held hostage inside Gaza. 

What is the ICC?

There are a number of international treaties — the Geneva Convention and the Geneva Protocol being two of the most important — that establish international legal standards for warfare. Any violation of those standards is a war crime that can be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court, known as the ICC, in the Hague, and can result in imprisonment for perpetrators.

The International Criminal Court was founded with the international treaty known commonly as the Rome Statute. It came into being in 2002 and tries individuals for serious crimes under four broad categories: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

What nations are ICC signatories and where does it have jurisdiction?

The ICC only has jurisdiction over the 124 countries that States Parties to the Rome Statute and their citizens, and neither the United States nor Israel are signatories.

Khan has assessed that the court does have jurisdiction to prosecute individuals over actions committed in the Palestinian territories and Palestinians in Israel, however, because the U.N. recognizes the State of Palestine as a signatory to the Rome Statute.

"The territorial scope of this jurisdiction extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," Khan said, adding that his office assesses that the ICC has jurisdiction over Palestinians in Israel and Israelis acting in Palestinian territories.

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