Sunday, 23 June

Netanyahu denounces bid to arrest him over Gaza war

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Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has angrily condemned the International Criminal Court's prosecutor for seeking arrest warrants for him alongside Hamas's leaders over alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict.

Mr Netanyahu said he rejected with disgust that "democratic Israel" had been compared with what he called "mass murderers".

Mr Netanyahu's comments have been echoed by US President Joe Biden, who said there was no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. 

The chief ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant bore criminal responsibility for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

The ICC is also seeking a warrant for Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, for war crimes.

Israel and the US, its key ally, are not members of the ICC, which was set up in 2002.

EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Displaced Palestinians in a damaged UN school in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. Photo: 19 May 2024

The accusations against the Israeli and Hamas leaders stem from the events of 7 October, when waves of Hamas gunmen attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking 252 others back to Gaza as hostages. The attack triggered the current war, in which at least 35,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry.

On Monday, Mr Biden said there was "no equivalence - none - between Israel and Hamas".

"It's clear Israel wants to do all it can to ensure civilian protection," Mr Biden added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the president's condemnation, saying Washington "fundamentally rejects" the move. "It is shameful," he said. "[The] ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter."

Mr Blinken also suggested the request for arrest warrants would jeopardise ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire deal.

Mr Khan also applied for arrest warrants for Mr Gallant and Hamas's political leader Ismail Haniyeh, along with the group's military chief Mohammed Deif.

He said Israel's prime minister and defence minister were suspected of crimes including starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, murder, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, and extermination.

The prosecutor said the alleged crimes began "from at least 7 October 2023" in the Hamas leaders' case, when the group launched its attack on Israel, and "from at least 8 October 2023" for the Israeli leaders.

The ICC defended its stance on Monday, saying that despite "significant efforts" it had not received "any information that has demonstrated genuine action at the domestic level [in Israel] to address the crimes alleged or the individuals under investigation".

A panel of judges at the ICC must now consider whether to issue the warrants and, if they do, countries signed up to the ICC statute are obliged to arrest the men if they have such an opportunity.

Reuters A resident of Israel's Kibbutz Nir Oz walks in front of houses burnt during Hamas's attack on 7 October 2023. Photo: March 2024

Mr Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, condemned the application to seek his arrest as "an absurd and false order".

In a public statement in Hebrew, he asked "with what audacity" the ICC would "dare to compare" Hamas and Israel.

The comparison was a "distortion of reality", Mr Netanyahu said.

He accused the prosecutor of "callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging across the world".

Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz called the move by Mr Khan an "unrestrained frontal assault" on the victims of the 7 October attacks and a "historical disgrace that will be remembered forever".

But some of Israel's Western allies avoided directly criticising the ICC in their statements.

In a statement late on Monday, the French foreign ministry said it supported the court and what it called its "fight against impunity in all situations".

Similarly, Germany's foreign ministry said it “respects the independence and procedures” of the ICC.

However, Berlin did criticise the simultaneous publication of the charges against Israeli and Hamas leaders, saying the move "created the incorrect impression of equivalency".

What is the International Criminal Court?

Hamas earlier made its own demand for "the cancellation of all arrest warrants issued against leaders of the Palestinian resistance".

"Hamas strongly denounces the attempts of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner," the group said.

The group also complained that the application for warrants against Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant had come “seven months late”, and that other Israeli political and military leaders had not been named alongside them.

Mr Khan accused the Hamas leaders of having committed crimes including extermination, murder, hostage taking, rape and sexual violence, and torture.

Source: BBC