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ICC prosecutor seeks warrant against Israel's Netanyahu

May 20, 2024

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor says he is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh and Yayha Sinwar, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands
The ICC chief prosecutor also applied for arrest warrants against Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant Image: Peter Dejong/AP/dpa/picture alliance

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for three top Hamas leaders as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said in a statement on Monday.

Prosecutor Karim Khan announced he was seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar as well as Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The arrest warrants are sought over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Israel and Gaza.

ICC seeks arrest warrant for Israeli, Hamas leaders

What are the Hamas leaders accused of?

Khan's Monday statement listed a range of accusations against Hamas political bureau head Haniyeh, Gaza head Sinwar and Mohammed Diab al-Masri (also known as Deif), the commander-in-chief of Hamas' military wing, the Qassam Brigades.

Accusations included: extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape and other acts of sexual violence, torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and other inhumane acts.

Khan said his office has reasonable grounds to believe the trio are "criminally responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians" in the Hamas October 7 terror attacks on southern Israel, which killed 1,200, with some 250 more taken hostage.

"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," the statement read. "Some of these crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day."

Israeli troops find bodies of 3 hostages in Gaza: Aya Ibrahim reports

The investigation relied on evidence including CCTV footage, authenticated audio, photo and video material as well as Hamas members' statements.

A senior Hamas official condemned the ICC's decision in statements to the Reuters news agency, saying it "equates the victim with the executioner." Sami Abu Zuhri added that it encourages Israel to continue its "war of extermination" in Gaza.

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, Israel and Germany, as well as other countries.

What are Netanyahu, Gallant accused of?

Meanwhile, Khan said his office has reasonable grounds to believe that Netanyahu and Gallant bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Palestinian territories (the Gaza Strip) since October 8 last year.

The list of accusations included: starvation of civilians, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, extermination and/or murder, persecution, and other inhumane acts.

Khan said the evidence collected by his team "shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival."

The statement listed acts such as imposing a total siege over Gaza with the closure of borders for extended periods of time, and restricting the transfer of essential supplies such as food and medicine.

Khan also cited cutting off cross-border water pipelines from Israel to Gaza for a prolonged period, describing it as "Gazans' principle source of clean water" and "cutting off and hindering electricity supplies from at least October 8 until today."

More acts include "attacks against civilians including those queuing for food," as well obstructing humanitarian aid deliveries, and attacking and killing aid workers "which forced many agencies to cease or limit their operations in Gaza."

Khan's office said the acts were part of a common plan "to use starvation as a method of war and other acts of violence against the Gazan civilian population." 

The aim of this was to "(i) eliminate Hamas; (ii) secure the return of the hostages which Hamas has abducted, and (iii) collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza, whom they perceived as a threat to Israel."

The ongoing Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, with the stated aim of eliminating Hamas, has thus far killed over 35,500 Palestinians, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said on Monday.

No end to civilian suffering as Gaza fighting intensifies

How did Israel react?  

Benny Gantz, a former military chief and member of Israel's War Cabinet with Netanyahu and Gallant, harshly criticized Khan's announcement, saying Israel fights with "one of the strictest" moral codes and has a robust judiciary capable of investigating itself.

"The State of Israel is waging one of the just wars fought in modern history following a reprehensible massacre perpetrated by terrorist Hamas on the 7th of October," he said. "The prosecutor's position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportion to be remembered for generations.

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.

rmt/rc (AP, Reuters)