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Israel, Hamas reject ICC move to arrest leaders for war crimes

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Israel and Hamas, currently engaged in intense fighting in the Gaza Strip, have both strongly rejected the International Criminal Court’s moves to arrest their leaders for war crimes.

The ICC’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced that he had applied for arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders due to the ongoing conflict. Israel condemned the demand targeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as a “historical disgrace.” Meanwhile, Hamas stated it “strongly condemns” the move.

US President Joe Biden also criticized the ICC’s action as “outrageous,” emphasizing that “there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

The ICC’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, stated he was seeking warrants against Israeli leaders for crimes such as “wilful killing,” “extermination and/or murder,” and “starvation.” He accused Israel of committing “crimes against humanity” during the war, which began with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7, 2023.

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Khan also accused Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar, of “taking hostages,” “rape and other acts of sexual violence,” and “torture” during the October 7 attack. “International law and the laws of armed conflict apply to all,” Khan said. “No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader –- no one -– can act with impunity.”

If granted by ICC judges, these warrants would obligate the 124 ICC member states to arrest Netanyahu and others if they travel there. However, the ICC lacks a mechanism to enforce these warrants.

Germany echoed Biden’s sentiments, with a foreign ministry spokesperson stating the warrants gave “a false impression of equivalence.” France, on the other hand, supported the ICC’s independence and its “fight against impunity.”

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Biden also addressed accusations in a separate tribunal, the UN International Court of Justice, where South Africa has claimed that Israel’s actions in Gaza are genocidal. “What’s happening is not genocide,” Biden said at a White House event.

Despite international criticism, Israeli forces continued to battle Hamas in Gaza, particularly in Rafah, which has seen heavy fighting. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed to keep fighting Hamas until the group is defeated and all remaining hostages are released.

The United Nations reported that over 812,000 Palestinians had fled Rafah. “The question that haunts us is: where will we go?” said Sarhan Abu al-Saeed, a resident of Rafah.

Israeli air strikes and naval forces have continued to target Rafah, with the military claiming they are destroying “terrorist infrastructure” and have killed over 130 militants.

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The conflict has resulted in significant casualties on both sides. Hamas’s initial attack on October 7 resulted in over 1,170 deaths, mostly civilians, and the taking of about 250 hostages. In retaliation, Israel’s offensive has killed at least 35,562 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians.

The ongoing war has left Gaza’s infrastructure severely damaged, with the European Union warning that 31 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are no longer functioning and that the remaining hospitals are “on the verge of collapse.”

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, meeting with Netanyahu, stressed the need for Israel to link its military operations with a political strategy for Gaza’s future. Washington supports a post-war plan for Gaza involving Palestinians and regional powers, as well as a broader diplomatic effort for Israel to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.

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