• Thursday, 13 June 2024

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders

Amsterdam, 20 May 2024 (dpa/MIA) - The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court said on Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top leaders from Palestinian extremist group Hamas over war crimes committed in Israel and Gaza.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said he is requesting warrants for Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Gaza Strip beginning on October 8, a day after Hamas militants launched their unprecedented attack on Israel.

Among the allegations are "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare" and "intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population," a statement from Khan's office said.

Warrants have also been requested for Yehya al-Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, along with Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, the head of the group's military wing, and Ismail Haniyeh, who sits atop Hamas' political bureau and is seen as the group's overall leader.

They were accused by Khan of bearing responsibility for murders, rapes, hostage-takings, torture and other inhumane acts from at least October 7.

Fighters from Hamas and other militant groups from Gaza killed some 1,200 people in the unprecedented massacre on communities in southern Israel on October 7. They also injured and raped countless others and took some 250 hostages back to Gaza.

Israel responded by sealing off the Palestinian territory and launching a massive aerial campaign to eliminate Hamas. At the end of October, Israeli ground troops were sent in and much of the coastal strip has since been rendered uninhabitable.

More than 35,000 Palestinians are said to have been killed in the fighting so far, while thousands of others are threatened by famine.

In his statement, Khan said that evidence gathered by his office "shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival."

This was achieved, among other things, "through the imposition of a total siege over Gaza," including the closure of border crossings from October 8 "for extended periods and then by arbitrarily restricting the transfer of essential supplies – including food and medicine – through the border crossings after they were reopened."

Khan said his office "submits that these acts were committed as part of a common plan to use starvation as a method of war and other acts of violence against the Gazan civilian population as a means to (i) eliminate Hamas; (ii) secure the return of the hostages which Hamas has abducted, and (iii) collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza, whom they perceived as a threat to Israel."

Regarding the Hamas leaders, Khan said evidence showed that al-Sinwar, al-Masri and Haniyeh "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."

"We submit that these crimes could not have been committed without their actions."

He added that there were also "reasonable grounds to believe that hostages taken from Israel have been kept in inhumane conditions, and that some have been subject to sexual violence, including rape."

The International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Israel does not recognize the court, but the Palestinian territories are a state party, so the prosecutor is authorized to investigate.

Legally, an ICC arrest warrant against the persons concerned would mean that states that have signed the ICC statutes would be obliged to arrest these persons and hand them over to the court if they enter the territory of these states.

A year ago, the court also issued international arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children's rights. Both are accused of war crimes in connection with the abduction and forced adoption of Ukrainian children to Russia.

At the end of April, Netanyahu slammed the prospect of a possible arrest warrants against him and other Israelis by the ICC as an "unprecedented anti-Semitic hate crime."

Such a step would violate Israel's right to self-defence following the Hamas massacre on October 7 last year, he said in a video address.