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ICC wants to arrest Hamas Chief, Israeli Prime Minister over war crimes charges

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sought arrest warrants for Hamas Chief Yahya Sinwar and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of war crimes, defying U.S. warnings that targeting Israeli officials could derail the peace process.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced the move on Monday, revealing that his team has applied for the warrants with the court’s pre-trial chamber. A panel of judges will now decide on granting the warrants, Forbes reported.

What they said

While Israel has yet to officially comment on Khan’s announcement, Netanyahu previously tweeted: “Under my leadership, Israel will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defense… While the ICC will not affect Israel’s actions, it would set a dangerous precedent that threatens the soldiers and officials of all democracies fighting savage terrorism and wanton aggression.”

 What you should know

  • The warrants extend beyond Sinwar to include two other senior Hamas figures: Mohammed Deif, leader of the Al Qassem Brigades, and political leader Ismail Haniyeh. On the Israeli side, the warrants target Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
  • Sinwar, Deif, and Haniyeh are charged with “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention” related to the October 7 terror attack on Israel.
  • Netanyahu and Gallant face charges of “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, and deliberately targeting civilians in conflict” due to actions in the ongoing war in Gaza.

 Background

Last month, Axios reported that Netanyahu had urged President Joe Biden to intervene to prevent the ICC from issuing warrants against top Israeli officials. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated,

“We’ve been really clear about the ICC investigation, that we don’t support it, we don’t believe that they have the jurisdiction.”

Republican Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, have also cautioned the ICC against targeting Israeli officials, with some GOP senators threatening to impose sanctions on the court.

This announcement is separate from an ongoing case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide against Hamas in the conflict following the October 7 attacks. The ICJ deals with cases involving countries, while the ICC prosecutes individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Some context

Monday’s development is not the first time the ICC has acted in relation to Israel. In March 2021, the ICC launched an investigation into possible crimes committed in the Palestinian territories since June 2014. The ICC, located in The Hague, Netherlands, operates independently under the Rome Statute, a treaty presented to the United Nations.

While 124 countries are parties to this treaty, significant non-signatories include Israel, the US, and Russia.

If the ICC grants Prosecutor Karim Khan’s application and issues the arrest warrants, any member country of the ICC would be obligated to arrest and extradite the individuals to The Hague. This requirement for cooperation among signatories to the Rome Statute could severely restrict the international travel of Netanyahu and Gallant, potentially preventing them from visiting numerous countries, including key allies such as Germany and the United Kingdom.


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