ICC Seeks Arrest Warrants for Hamas Leader and Israeli PM Netanyahu Over War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Featured & Cover ICC Seeks Arrest Warrants for Hamas Leader and Israeli PM Netanyahu Over War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is pursuing arrest warrants for Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent conflict in Gaza. This announcement was made by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan during an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Khan revealed that the ICC’s prosecution team is also seeking warrants for Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as two other prominent Hamas leaders — Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, known as Mohammed Deif, the leader of the Al Qassem Brigades, and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political leader. The targeting of Israeli officials marks a significant moment, as it is the first time the ICC has sought to arrest the top leader of a US ally. This decision places Netanyahu alongside figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin and the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, both of whom faced ICC arrest warrants for alleged war crimes.

Issuing arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders in the same action could attract criticism, potentially equating a terror organization with an elected government. A panel of ICC judges will now evaluate Khan’s application for the warrants.

Khan outlined the charges against Sinwar, Haniyeh, and al-Masri, which include “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention.” He highlighted the horrific events of October 7, stating, “The world was shocked… when people were ripped from their bedrooms, from their homes, from the different kibbutzim in Israel… people have suffered enormously.” On that day, Hamas militants killed approximately 1,200 people across southern Israel and took around 250 hostages into Gaza. Many of these hostages remain captive, with Khan noting that crimes continue to be committed against “so many innocent Israelis… that are held hostage by Hamas and families that are waiting for their return.”

Khan emphasized that his team has substantial evidence to support the arrest warrants, including authenticated video footage, photographs, and testimonies from eyewitnesses and survivors. While acknowledging Israel’s right to rescue hostages, Khan stressed, “you must do so by complying with the law.”

In response, Hamas condemned the ICC’s move, stating it “strongly condemns the attempts of the ICC Prosecutor to equate victims with aggressors by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders without legal basis.” Hamas also urged the ICC to issue warrants against “all war criminals among the occupation leaders, officers, and soldiers who participated in crimes against the Palestinian people.”

The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant are similarly severe, including “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.” Khan remarked, “The fact that Hamas fighters need water doesn’t justify denying water from all the civilian population of Gaza.”

The conflict has resulted in devastating casualties in Gaza, with over 35,500 Palestinians killed and more than 79,000 wounded since October 7, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, though CNN could not independently verify these figures. Netanyahu denounced the ICC’s decision as “a political outrage,” vowing, “They will not deter us and we will continue in the war until the hostages are released and Hamas is destroyed.”

Other Israeli officials echoed Netanyahu’s condemnation. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, criticized Khan’s decision, asserting that Israel fights “with one of the strictest moral codes in history, while complying with international law and boasting a robust independent judiciary.” He described the comparison between Israel’s leaders and Hamas as “a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” labeling the prosecutors’ decision as “a crime of historic proportion.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid also rebuked the application for arrest warrants, calling it “a complete moral failure.” He stated, “We cannot accept the outrageous comparison between Netanyahu and Sinwar… We will not remain silent.” Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called the decision “beyond outrageous.”

Netanyahu had previously declared that any ICC arrest warrants against senior Israeli officials would be “an outrage of historic proportions,” insisting that Israel’s independent legal system rigorously investigates all legal violations. In response to these comments, Khan stated, “Nobody is above the law,” urging Israel to challenge the ICC’s jurisdiction in court if it disagreed.

Although Israel and the United States are not ICC members, the court claims jurisdiction over Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank since Palestinian leaders accepted the court’s founding principles in 2015. This latest announcement is separate from an ongoing case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians.

This is not the first ICC action involving Israel; in March 2021, Khan’s office launched an investigation into possible crimes committed in Gaza and the West Bank since June 2014. The ICC, located in The Hague and established by the Rome Statute, operates independently with 124 member countries. Should the court grant the arrest warrants, any member country would be obliged to arrest and extradite the individuals to The Hague. This could significantly limit Netanyahu and Gallant’s international travel, including to countries closely allied with Israel.

Sinwar, Haniyeh, and al-Masri, designated as global terrorists by the US, face travel bans, asset freezes, and sanctions. Hamas as an organization is similarly designated by several countries, including the US, the UK, Japan, Canada, and the European Union, which imposes sanctions on its leaders.

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