ICC Seeks Israel PM, Hamas Leader’s Arrest for War Crimes

20th May 2024

The International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Monday.

Khan said the ICC was also seeking warrants for Israel’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, as well as two other top Hamas leaders — Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, the leader of the Al Qassem Brigades who is better known as Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political leader.

The warrants against the Israeli politicians mark the first time the ICC has targeted the top leader of a close ally of the United States.

The decision puts Netanyahu in the company of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, for whom the ICC issued an arrest warrant over Moscow’s war on Ukraine, and the Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who was facing an arrest warrant from the ICC for alleged crimes against humanity at the time of his capture and killing in October 2011.

By applying for arrest warrants against Israeli and Hamas leaders in the same action, Khan’s office risks attracting criticism that it places a terror organization and an elected government on an equivalent footing.

A panel of ICC judges will now consider Khan’s application for the arrest warrants.

Khan said the charges against Sinwar, Haniyeh and al-Masri included “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape and sexual assault in detention.”

“The world was shocked on the 7th of October when people were ripped from their bedrooms, from their homes, from the different kibbutzim in Israel,” Khan told Amanpour, adding “people have suffered enormously.”

The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant include “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict,” Khan told Amanpour.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, at left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at right, are pictured.

When reports surfaced last month that the ICC chief prosecutor was considering this course of action, Netanyahu said that any ICC arrest warrants against senior Israeli government and military officials “would be an outrage of historic proportions,” and that Israel “has an independent legal system that rigorously investigates all violations of the law.”

Asked by Amanpour about the comments made by Netanyahu, Khan said: “Nobody is above the law.”

He said that if Israel disagreed with the ICC, “they are free, notwithstanding their jurisdiction objections, to raise a challenge before the judges of the court and that’s what I advise them to do.”

Israel and the United States are not members of the ICC.

However, the ICC claims to have jurisdiction over Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank after Palestinian leaders formally agreed to be bound by the court’s founding principles in 2015.

The ICC announcement on Monday is separate from the case that is currently being heard by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over an accusation from South Africa that Israel [quote]was committing genocide in its war against Hamas following the October 7 attacks.

While the ICJ considers cases that involve countries and nations, and the ICC is a criminal court, which brings cases against individuals for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Monday’s announcement is not the first time that the ICC acted on Israel. In March 2021, Khan’s office launched an investigation into possible crimes committed in the Palestinian territories since June 2014 in Gaza and the West Bank.

Located in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by a treaty called the Rome Statute first brought before the United Nations, the ICC operates independently. Most countries – 124 of them – are parties to the treaty, but there are notable exceptions, including Israel, the US and Russia.

That means that if the court grants Khan’s application and issues arrest warrants for the five men, any country that is a member would have to arrest them and extradite them to The Hague.

Under the rules of the court, all signatories of the Rome Statute must cooperate fully with its decisions. This would make it extremely difficult for Netanyahu and Gallant to travel internationally, including to many countries that are among Israel’s closest allies – including Germany and the United Kingdom.