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Israeli and Hamas leaders face International Criminal Court arrest warrants

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced its seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.
Israel Hamas arrest warrants

The top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders over allegations of war crimes.

Karim Khan named three Hamas leaders, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as targets of the proposed warrants.

The application for warrants is separate to the case brought by South Africa alleging genocide by Israel in Gaza.

Here’s what you need to know.

The ICC

The ICC prosecutes allegations of crimes committed by individuals against civilians during wars, including genocide, torture, and sexual violence. It steps in when states are “unable or unwilling” to try these cases. It’s different to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which tries cases against states.

124 countries, including Australia, are members of the ICC. This means they must arrest anyone within their borders with an active warrant.

Russian President Vladimir Putin currently has an active ICC arrest warrant over war crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine.

Claims against Hamas

Khan seeks arrest warrants for three leaders of Hamas:

  • Yahya Sinwar (Hamas’ leader in Gaza)
  • Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri (Hamas’ military leader)
  • Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas’ political leader)

They are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual violence, taking hostages, and torture. They’re also accused of ‘extermination’, defined as blocking food and medicine “to bring about the destruction of part of a population”.

Khan said he had travelled to sites from the 7 October attacks and spoken to survivors, who shared that “the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness.”

He added: “These acts demand accountability.”

Khan said his office believes there are reasonable grounds to suggest hostages have been subject to sexual violence, and called on the immediate release of all remaining hostages by Hamas.

Claims against Israel

Khan also seeks arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Netanyahu and Gallant were also accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These crimes include starvation of civilians, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, extermination, and persecution as a crime against humanity.

Khan said evidence showed “Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.”

Specifically, Khan highlighted Israel’s closure of three border crossings in Gaza, and “arbitrary” restriction of essential supplies.

On this, he said: “Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza – namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal.”

What next?

The prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants does not mean any of those named will be arrested.

Firstly, the application will need to be approved by a panel of three judges. This panel will ultimately decide whether to approve the prosecutor’s requests.

Israel isn’t a member of the ICC, meaning a warrant would have no effect within Israel’s borders. However, if any of the leaders enter an ICC country, such as Australia or the UK, they could be arrested if the warrant is approved.

Response

Netanyahu called the ICC’s actions “a moral outrage of historic proportions” and a “travesty of justice”. He refuted any comparisons between the “democratically elected leaders of Israel” and Hamas’ leaders.

A senior Hamas official told Reuters the ICC’s move “equates the victim with the executioner” when referring to Israeli leaders.

U.S. President Joe Biden also echoed Netanyahu’s comments, saying the warrants request was “outrageous” and rejecting any “equivalence” between Israel and Hamas.

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