International Criminal Court seeks arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders

The announcement drew immediate condemnation from both Israel and Hamas militants.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP) (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has said that he is seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders in connection with their actions during the seven-month war.

The announcement drew immediate condemnation from both Israel and Hamas militants.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the move to seek his arrest as a “disgrace” and attack on the Israeli military and all of Israel.

In a statement, Mr Netanyahu also vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas militants.

Mr Netanyahu said the request for an arrest warrant was “absurd” and accused the prosecution of antisemitism.

“As prime minister of Israel, I reject with disgust the Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murders of Hamas,” he said.

“No pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who seek to destroy us.”

The US later issued a statement saying it “fundamentally rejects” prosecutor Karim Khan’s “equivalence of Israel with Hamas”.

“It is shameful,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in written statement.

“Hamas is a brutal terrorist organisation that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans.”

The statement also reiterated the US position that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the conflict.

Mr Khan’s announcement came as Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant — one of those for whom Mr Khan is seeking a warrant — said the military would expand its operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in its efforts to crush Hamas.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing tensions, Iranian officials announced that President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were found dead on Monday hours after their helicopter crashed in fog, leaving the Islamic Republic without two key leaders.

Iran backs Hamas, and the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah, also supported by Tehran, has fired rockets at Israel.

Last month, Iran launched its own an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (Vahid Salemi/AP)
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (Vahid Salemi/AP) (Vahid Salemi/AP)

ICC prosecutor Mr Khan said he believes Mr Gallant, Mr Netanyahu and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Mr Gallant and the Israeli military leadership in Tel Aviv earlier on Monday.

Mr Sullivan’s visit comes two weeks into the military’s foray into Rafah, where troops have been battling Hamas fighters and escalating bombardment.

“I emphasised to him (Sullivan) Israel’s duty to expand the ground operation in Rafah, to dismantle Hamas and to return the hostages,” Mr Gallant said in a post on X.

President Joe Biden’s administration has opposed a full-fledged invasion of Rafah because of fears for the civilian population.

So far Israeli forces have mainly been operating in eastern parts of the city, but the fighting has already triggered an exodus of more than 810,000 Palestinians, according to the United Nations.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas’ October 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250.

The war has killed at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million Palestinians has been displaced within the territory, often multiple times.

In his visit, Mr Sullivan was also discussing post-war plans for Gaza at a time when Mr Netanyahu faces criticism from the other members of his war cabinet.

Mr Netanyahu’s main political rival, Benny Gantz, has threatened to leave the government if a plan is not created by June 8 that includes an international administration for post-war Gaza.