THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said on Monday he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence chief and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement issued after over seven months of war in Gaza that he had reasonable grounds to believe that the five men “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He said he had applied for an arrest warrant for Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as well as for Netanyahu. They have overseen Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza since the Palestinian group’s deadly Oct 7 raid on Israel.

He has also applied for arrest warrants for Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar; Mohammed Al-Masri, the commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas who is widely known as Deif; and Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau.

Tel Aviv, Palestinian group denounce ICC prosecutor’s move

A panel of pre-trial judges will determine whether the evidence supports the issuing of arrest warrants, but the court has no means to enforce such warrants.

Israel and Palestinian leaders have dismissed allegations of committing war crimes, and representatives of both sides criticised the prosecutor’s decision. “Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a blood-thirsty organisation (Hamas) is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the prosecutor’s decision to request warrants for the three Hamas leaders “equates the victim with the executioner”. Hamas demanded the arrest warrant request for its leaders be cancelled.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health ministry, and aid agencies have also warned of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

“Israel, like all states, has a right to take action to defend its population,” Khan said. “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

He said crimes against humanity allegedly carried out by Israel were part of “a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to state policy”. “These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” he said.

Evidence his office collected showed Israel had systematically deprived civilians of “objects indispensable to human survival,” including restricting food, water, medicine and energy, he said. Netanyahu and Gallant bore responsibility, he said, for Israel wilfully causing great suffering and for killing as a war crime.

The Hamas leaders face allegations of bearing responsibility for crimes committed by the group, including extermination and murder, and other acts of violence.

The ICC is the world’s first permanent international war crimes court. Its 124 member states are obliged to immediately arrest the wanted person if they are on a member state’s territory but the court has no means to enforce arrest warrants. A court of last resort, the ICC steps in only when a state is unwilling or genuinely unable to do so itself.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2024

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