World reacts to ICC's request for arrest warrants for Israeli, Hamas leadership

An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021. [Reuters]

The head prosecutor at the International Criminal Court announced Monday that he was seeking arrest warrants for Israel's prime minister and defense minister and three Hamas leaders in Gaza for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Israel-Hamas war.

The decision triggered a slew of reactions. Israeli President Isaac Herzog called the announcement “beyond outrageous and shows the extent to which the international judicial system is in danger of collapsing.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz echoed Herzog’s comments, calling the ICC’s request to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant an “outrageous decision.”

U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the ICC prosecutor’s decision to equate Hamas terror attacks and civilian abductions in southern Israel with Israel’s military practices in Gaza.

The ICC prosecutor's application for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders was "outrageous," Biden said in a statement Monday.

"And let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas," the president said.

In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden’s comments and called the ICC’s move to compare Israel with Hamas “shameful.”

“Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans,” Blinken said.

He added that this decision “could jeopardize ongoing efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, which are the goals the United States continues to pursue relentlessly.”

The Hamas Islamist group, which the U.S., the U.K. and other countries have designated as a terrorist militant organization, denounced the ICC prosecutor's decision to seek arrest warrants for three of its leading members. It accused ICC prosecutor Karim Khan of trying to “equate the victim with the executioner.”

In a statement Monday, the group said it had the right to resist Israeli occupation, including “armed resistance.”

Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, hailed Khan’s decision.

“This principled first step by the prosecutor opens the door to those responsible for the atrocities committed in recent months to answer for their actions at a fair trial,” Jarrah said in a statement Monday.

South Africa's presidency also welcomed the ICC’s announcement Monday.

ICC prosecutor Khan said his office believed all five people bore responsibility for acts against humanity.

He said in a statement that Netanyahu and Gallant “bear criminal responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including starving civilians as a method of warfare and intentionally directing attacks against civilians, “as a means to eliminate Hamas, secure the return of the hostages which Hamas has abducted, and collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza, whom they perceived as a threat to Israel.”

In addition, Khan said, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar; commander of the Hamas military wing, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri; and the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, taking hostages as a war crime, rape, other sexual violence and torture.

“It is the view of my office that these individuals planned and instigated the commission of crimes on 7 October 2023, and have through their own actions, including personal visits to hostages shortly after their kidnapping, acknowledged their responsibility for those crimes,” Khan said. “We submit that these crimes could not have been committed without their actions.”

The prosecutor must request the warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who will examine the evidence before they decide whether to move forward with arrest warrants.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But Khan's announcement increases Israel's isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Israel's war in Gaza was triggered by the October Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s subsequent counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 35,400 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which includes civilians and combatants in its count but says most of the dead are women and children.

Israel says it has killed more than 14,000 militants and around 16,000 civilians.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Israeli bombardment continues to be reported across much of Gaza, as well as ground incursions and heavy fighting, especially in eastern Rafah in the south and Jabaliya in the north.

More than 900,000 people – about 40 percent of Gaza’s population – have been displaced over the past two weeks, including 812,000 people from Rafah and more than 100,000 others in northern Gaza, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said during a news briefing Monday.

He said that more than 75 percent of the Gaza Strip – 285 square kilometers – was under evacuation orders, amid escalating hostilities.

“Under international humanitarian law, civilians – whether they move or stay – must be protected. Wherever they are in Gaza, their essential needs, including food, shelter, water and health, must be met,” he added.

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