Skip to main content

War on Gaza: ICC prosecutor threatens Israel with potential action over military activity in Rafah

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan had previously led a UN probe into crimes by the Islamic State militant group in Iraq
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan during an interview with AFP at Cour d'Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris, on 7 February 2024 (AFP)

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan said he was “deeply concerned” about reports of the bombardment and potential entry of Israeli troops into Rafah in Gaza, saying that his office may be pushed to take action against Israel.

“All wars have rules and the laws applicable to armed conflict cannot be interpreted so as to render them hollow or devoid of meaning. This has been my consistent message, including from Ramallah last year,” he wrote.

“Since that time, I have not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel. As I have repeatedly emphasised, those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my Office takes action pursuant to its mandate.”

Khan posted the statement on the social media platform X on Monday, adding that his office has an ongoing and active investigation “into the situation in the State of Palestine”.

Agnes Callamard, the secretary general at Amnesty International, also took to X to say that there is nowhere safe for Palestinians to go following the air strikes in Rafah.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


“The Israeli incursion will have devastating consequences. Mass killings, forced transfers, more war crimes. The carnage must stop,” Callamard said. 

Khan has been a vocal critic of Israel's military assault in Gaza since the war on Gaza started on 7 October after the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel. In late October, Israel said it would not allow Khan to enter the country, according to reports in the Israeli press. 

Khan, speaking from the Rafah crossing at the time, expressed his desire to enter Gaza and Israel to investigate potential crimes. 

Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and is not a member of the Hague-based court. 

However, the ICC can investigate nationals of non-member states in some circumstances, including when alleged crimes are committed in the territories of member states.

The Palestinian Authority is a member of the court. However, Israel refuses to allow members of the ICC to enter the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza.

In December, Khan called on Israel to respect the international rules of war and said he was accelerating his investigation into violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, issuing a statement similar to the one made on Monday.

"I was crystal clear, that this is the time to comply with the law. If Israel doesn't comply now, they shouldn't complain later."

Concerns about looming ground assault

In the early hours of Monday, Israel carried out air strikes on Rafah, resulting in the deaths of numerous Palestinians who were taking refuge in homes and tents. 

The attacks targeted 14 homes and three mosques in Rafah, Palestinian officials said. The Palestinian health ministry said at least 67 people were killed.

This action has heightened concerns about a looming ground assault on the region, which is heavily populated with displaced individuals who had fled there during the war, in addition to the people who normally live there.

The war on Gaza, which came in response to the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that killed 1,139 people and saw over 200 taken as captives back to Gaza, has resulted in Israel's military killing more than 28,000 Palestinians - the majority being women and children - while at least 65,000 have been wounded. 

Khan, the chief prosecutor, had previously led a UN probe into crimes by the Islamic State militant group in Iraq. He was elected by secret ballot in 2021 after ICC member states failed to come to a consensus on a replacement for his predecessor, Fatou Bensouda.

Since 2021, the ICC has been conducting an investigation into potential war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.