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ICC seeks arrest of Israel’s Netanyahu over war crimes in Gaza

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas leaders Sinwar, Haniyeh and Deif also sought by court over war crimes
Netanyahu (left) and Gallant at a press conference in late October (AFP)
Netanyahu (left) and Gallant at a press conference in late October (AFP)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and three leaders of Hamas, on the grounds of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the prosecutor's office announced on Monday. 

Alongside Gallant and Netanyahu, the Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, its military wing's commander-in-chief Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, better known as Mohammed Deif, and its political leader Ismail Haniyeh were named in a statement by chief prosecutor Karim Khan. 

Gallant and Netanyahu face war crimes and crimes against humanity charges over the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare; wilfully causing great suffering; wilful killing; intentional attacks on a civilian population and extermination, alongside several other charges.

In his statement accompanying the charges, Khan wrote: "My Office submits that the evidence we have collected, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, authenticated video, photo and audio material, satellite imagery and statements from the alleged perpetrator group, shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival."

He 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."

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The Hamas leaders also face charges related to extermination, murder, the taking of hostages, sexual assault and torture, alongside several more charges.

Regarding the charges, Khan said: "My Office submits there are reasonable grounds to believe that [Sinwar, Deif and Haniyeh] are criminally responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians in attacks perpetrated by Hamas (in particular its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades) and other armed groups on 7 October 2023 and the taking of at least 245 hostages."

Writing on the social media platform X, Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich compared the ICC to the Nazis.

"The Nazis also spoke in the name of "morality" even then there was nothing there but good old antisemitism as we have experienced in all generations. Haters of Israel come and go, Israel's eternity will not lie." Smotrich said.

"I would like to strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense. Their arrest warrants are the arrest warrants for all of us." He added.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has also condemned the ICC decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders as "beyond outrageous."

Diplomatic setback

The arrest warrants sought by Khan will be presented to the judges who sit at the ICC and they will decide whether to grant them.

Monday's announcement is the most significant diplomatic setback for Israel in decades and comes as it tries desperately to protect its international reputation amidst its devastating war in Gaza.

More than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Israel began military operations there on 7 October. The majority of those are women and children.

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For weeks there has been speculation amongst Israelis that ICC arrest warrants were in the works.

In late April, the Israeli media outlet Ynet reported that Israeli leaders were worried about arrest when travelling to Europe on the basis of secretly issued arrest warrants.

Another Israeli newspaper, Maariv, reported that Netanyahu was "frightened and unusually stressed" about the prospect of the ICC issuing a warrant for his arrest and was seeking US help to pressure the organisation.

Israel has threatened to retaliate against the Palestinian authority should the ICC issue warrants, while Republican members of Congress have threatened Khan directly with sanctions should he proceed with the case.

The state also faces separate charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after South Africa filed a case over the conduct of its war on Gaza.

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