ICC prosecutor applies for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Hamas leader Sinwar

President Joe Biden denounced as “outrageous” the International Criminal Court’s announcement Monday that it is seeking to arrest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders and charge them with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said in a statement.

Biden’s forceful response to the ICC announcement that it intends to hold Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders responsible along with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and other Hamas leaders for the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces was echoed by top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken.

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

The reaction came several hours after ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said in a statement that he was “filing applications for the warrants of arrests ” for Netanyahu, Sinwar and other senior Israeli and Hamas figures who have played key roles in the ongoing war in Gaza.

While it’s unlikely the targeted Israeli and Hamas leaders will face prosecution, the arrest warrants could make it difficult for them to travel abroad and a trial in the court would be especially embarrassing to the Israeli government, experts said.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also faces potential arrest, as pressure continues on Israel at home and abroad to halt its military offensive in Gaza and secure a cease-fire and hostage release deal with Hamas.

Khan said that both Netanyahu and Gallant bear criminal responsibility for a list of “war crimes,” including the starvation of civilians, willfully “causing great suffering, or serious injury,’ willful killing, and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy,” Khan wrote in the ICC statement, adding that his office has extensive evidence including video and interviews with survivors. “These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.”

Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar
Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar.Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas, and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, also face ICC arrest warrants for their part in the Oct. 7 attacks.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas and other armed groups pursuant to organizational policies,” Khan wrote. “Some of these crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.”

Israel’s leadership had been working through diplomatic channels to prevent the issuance of the ICC warrants, an Israeli official told NBC News in April.

Netanyahu blasted the ICC’s announcement as “absurd.”

“With what audacity do you dare compare the monsters of Hamas to the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world?” Netanyahu said in a statement. “With what audacity do you compare between the Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, raped, and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is unparalleled in morality that is unmatched.”

There was no immediate comment from Gallant to Monday’s development.

But Israeli war Cabinet member Benny Gantz, a political rival of Netanyahu who recently threatened to resign from the government if it didn’t adopt a new plan for the war in Gaza, condemned the ICC’s announcement.

“Placing the leaders of a country that went into battle to protect its citizens, in the same line with bloodthirsty terrorists — is moral blindness and a violation of its duty and ability to protect its citizens,” he said in a post on X.

The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, which represents the families of those taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attacks, said in a statement it too was “not comfortable with the equivalence drawn between Israel’s leadership and the terrorists of Hamas.”

In a statement, Hamas separately denounced “the attempts of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders.”

“Seasoned observers” of the ICC had expected the court to issue warrants “against not only Israeli officials, but also against Hamas leaders,” Brian Finucane, an expert in international law, told NBC News in a phone interview on April 29, before the warrants were issued.

The ICC — based in The Hague, Netherlands — can charge individuals with war crimes and other related charges. It is separate from the International Court of Justice, which considers cases between states and is currently investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza.

Three years ago, the ICC launched an investigation into possible war crimes committed by both Israel and Palestinian militants going back to the Israel-Hamas war in 2014.

At the time, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. had “serious concerns” about the probe.

That investigation was launched after the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015, asked the ICC to look into Israeli actions during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, as well as the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem. Much of the world considers the settlements to be illegal under international law.

It is unclear exactly when the ICC launched its probe into Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on the country left 1,200 dead and around 250 people taken hostage. Health officials in Gaza say more than 35,000 have died since then.

Khan visited the region in December and said that his investigation was “moving forward at pace, with rigor, with determination and with an insistence that we act not on emotion but on solid evidence.”

Human rights advocates and experts on the region welcomed Monday’s development.

“The state of Israel is on trial at the ICJ, its leaders are subject to an indictment request at the ICC, its allies are subject to cases in national courts, independent human rights mechanisms have condemned them & millions are in the streets demanding justice,” Craig Mokhiber, a former top United Nations human rights official, said in a post on X on Monday. “Justice is coming.”

Mokhiber, who was the director of the New York office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, stepped down in November in protest against the UN’s failure to condemn what he called “textbook genocide” by the Israeli military against Palestinians in Gaza.

Finucane, who is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law, told NBC News that neither Israel nor the U.S. recognizes the court’s jurisdiction.

But he added that the warrants would put Israeli officials at risk of arrest in other countries, including much of Europe.

“As a practical matter, ICC arrest warrants could function as a travel ban,” said Finucane, who served as an attorney adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department during both the Obama and Trump administrations.

The warrants also put Netanyahu on similar footing on the international stage as Russian President Vladimir Putin, after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him in March 2023 for war crimes in Ukraine.

Finucane said Biden “welcomed that announcement and said he thought it was justified.”

Source link