Updated May 20, 2024 - World

ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Hamas leaders

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor announced on Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

Why it matters: The move, by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, will further isolate Israel internationally and increase pressure on the Biden administration to press Netanyahu to end the war in Gaza. It could also trigger legislation by Congress against the ICC.

  • This is the first time the ICC seeks arrest warrants against a major U.S. ally, as well as the first time it has issued warrants for the leader of a democratic country.

Driving the news: Khan said in a statement on Monday that he seeks arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant.

  • "Based on evidence collected and examined by my Office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Netanyahu and Gallant, bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least 8 October 2023," Khan said in his statement.

Zoom in: Khan said he has evidence that Netanyahu and Gallant are responsible for "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime."

  • He also said that Netanyahu and Gallant are allegedly responsible for "willful killing or Murder as a war crime," and for "intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime."
  • "The evidence we have collected shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival," Khan said.
  • He cited the total siege over Gaza that involved closing the three border crossings, restricting the transfer of essential supplies, cutting off cross-border water pipelines from Israel to Gaza and obstructing aid delivery by humanitarian agencies.

Between the lines: Khan isn't seeking arrest warrants against Israel's military leadership. He is focusing on Netanyahu's and Gallant's responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Khan also is seeking warrants for Yahya Sinwar, Hamas' leader in Gaza; Mohammed Deif, leader of Hamas' military wing; and Ismail Haniyeh, the group's political leader.

  • "My Office submits there are reasonable grounds to believe that Sinwar, Deif and Haniyeh are criminally responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians in attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October 2023 and the taking of at least 245 hostages," Khan said.
  • The prosecutor said Hamas leaders allegedly committed "extermination as a crime against humanity" and "murder as a war crime."
  • He also said he believes Hamas leaders are responsible for taking hostages as a war crime, as well as rape, other acts of sexual violence and torture as crimes against humanity.
  • "There are reasonable grounds to believe that hostages taken from Israel have been kept in inhumane conditions, and that some have been subject to sexual violence, including rape, while being held in captivity," Khan said in his statement, adding that his office is still investigating allegations of sexual violence on Oct. 7.

Catch up quick: Khan and his team have discussed the possibility of arrest warrants for several weeks, raising deep concerns in Israel.

  • The Biden administration has told ICC officials it opposes the move and said that the court doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate the war in Gaza.
  • Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, has threatened to take punitive action against the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the court issues arrest warrants.
  • The Israelis claimed the Palestinian Authority led a campaign to issue the warrants and warned the U.S. that Israeli sanctions against the PA could lead to its collapse.

What to watch: "My Office will not hesitate to submit further applications for warrants of arrest if and when we consider that the threshold of a realistic prospect of conviction has been met," Khan said in the statement. "I renew my call for all parties in the current conflict to comply with the law now."

  • A panel of judges will now examine Khan's request and decide whether to issue the warrants.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional details and context.

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