Netanyahu, Hamas both decry war crime warrants

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the ICC’s announcement is a “disgrace”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the ICC’s announcement is a “disgrace”.

The chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court is seeking arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over actions taken during their seven-month war.

While Netanyahu and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, do not face imminent arrest, the announcement on Monday by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Yahya Sinwar
Yahya Sinwar is one of three Hamas leaders sought by the ICC’s top prosecutor. (AP PHOTO)

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. US President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel is not a member of the court, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Netanyahu called the prosecutor’s accusations against him a “disgrace,” and an attack on the Israeli military and all of Israel. He vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas.

President Biden said the effort to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant over the war in Gaza was “outrageous,” adding “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas also denounced the ICC prosecutor’s actions, saying the request to arrest its leaders “equates the victim with the executioner.”

Netanyahu has come under heavy pressure at home to end the war. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations calling on the government to reach a deal to bring home Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity, fearing that time is running out.

In recent days, the two other members of his war cabinet, Gallant and Benny Gantz, have threatened to resign if Netanyahu does not spell out a clear postwar vision for Gaza.

But on Monday, Netanyahu received wall-to-wall support as politicians across the spectrum condemned the ICC prosecutor’s move. They included Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, and his two main political rivals, Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid.

It is unclear what effect Khan’s move will have on Netanyahu’s public standing. The possibility of an arrest warrant against Netanyahu could give him a boost as Israelis rally behind the flag. But his opponents could also blame him for bringing a diplomatic catastrophe on the country.

Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at Hebrew University and the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said the warrant could make Netanyahu an “outcast”.

Amal Clooney
Amal Clooney served on the panel that recommended the ICC seek the arrest warrants. (AP PHOTO)

Hamas is already considered an international terrorist group by the West. 

The latest war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, when militants from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage.

Since then, Israel has waged a brutal campaign to dismantle Hamas in Gaza. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, at least half of them women and children, according to the latest estimates by Gaza health officials.

The war has triggered a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, displacing roughly 80 per cent of the population and leaving hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of starvation, according to UN officials.

Speaking of the Israeli actions, Khan said “the effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known.”

The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries throughout the war, a claim Israel denies.

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney served on a five-member expert panel that advised Khan. She said the panel had agreed unanimously that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that both the Hamas and Israeli leaders had committed war crimes, according to a statement.

AP