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ICC seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Hamas leaders

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a ceremony marking Memorial Day for fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars and victims of attacks at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery on May 13.  (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Kevin Whitelaw</p><p> and Cagan Koc Bloomberg News

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on war crimes charges.

Karim Khan said in a statement that the charges relate to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the Hamas militant group, and to the Israeli military response in Gaza. A panel of ICC judges will consider whether or not to accept the application.

The decision to seek charges against the Israeli leader comes despite a U.S. warning that it could jeopardize the chance for a cease-fire deal. The Israeli government also slammed the move, calling it a “deep distortion of justice.”

“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. “These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.”

Khan is also seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and two other Hamas leaders, military chief Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri and political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.

The Israeli government had been worried about possible arrest warrants for its leadership, and the U.S. has been publicly opposed to the ICC investigation.

“Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a blood-thirsty terror organization is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” Benny Gantz, an Israeli opposition leader in the country’s three-man war cabinet, said in a post on social media outlet X on Monday.

“The prosecutor’s position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportion to be remembered for generations,” he said.

Earlier this month, the ICC ordered an end to attempts to threaten its officials, days after the U.S. and allies raised concerns that the court may issue arrest warrants for Israeli officials.

“We’ve been really clear about the ICC investigation – we do not support it,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last month. “We don’t believe that they have the jurisdiction.”

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid called the decision unforgivable. “I expect and believe that the Biden administration will stand behind us and we expect Congress to come together and condemn these arrest warrants,” he said.

Some Western politicians welcomed the announcement. The request “for arrest warrants against both Hamas and Israeli officials is an important step in the investigation of the situation in Palestine,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib in a post on X, adding that crimes in Gaza must be prosecuted “at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators.”

The ICC investigates and tries individuals charged with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. Israel hasn’t ratified the ICC’s statute and doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction but the “State of Palestine” has been a member of the court since 2015. The U.S. has also never been a party to the ICC.

Last year, the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine, a move that was dismissed by the Kremlin.

–With assistance from Ethan Bronner and Galit Altstein.

Later on Monday, President Joe Biden denounced the “outrageous” move in a statement.

“Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence - none - between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said. “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”