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What we know: ICC seeks arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Sinwar

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan announced Monday that his office has applied for arrest warrants against three Hamas leaders over the Oct. 7 attack on Israel as well as for Israel's prime minister and defense chief over the subsequent Gaza war.

The International Criminal Court's prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, brigade commander Mohammed Deif and Hamas' political chief Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.  

A statement issued by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday said he applied to the court’s pre-trial chamber to issue arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity against Sinwar, Deif and Haniyeh. The statement detailed eight charges including "extermination," "murder," "taking of hostages," "rape and other acts of sexual violence," "torture," "other inhumane acts," "cruel treatment" and "outrages upon personal dignity … in the context of captivity."

Amal Clooney, the British-Lebanese prosecutor and spouse of actor George Clooney, is one of the experts who advised the International Criminal Court on seeking the arrest warrants. 

"As part of our investigations, my office has interviewed victims and survivors, including former hostages and eyewitnesses from six major attack locations: Kfar Aza, Holit, the location of the Supernova Music Festival, Be’eri, Nir Oz, and Nahal Oz," read the statement, which went on, "The investigation also relies on evidence such as CCTV footage, authenticated audio, photo and video material, statements by Hamas members including the alleged perpetrators named above, and expert evidence."

Discussing these charges, Khan told CNN on Monday, "The world was shocked Oct. 7 when people were ripped from their homes in the kibbutzim in Israel," adding, "People have suffered enormously."

Khan said that his team had also applied for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant on seven charges including "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare," "willfully causing great suffering," "willful killing," "intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population," "extermination," "persecution" and "other inhumane acts."

"The effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known, and have been confirmed by multiple witnesses interviewed by my office," read the statement. It continued, "Famine is present in some areas of Gaza and is imminent in other areas."

Ongoing investigations at ICC, ICJ

Khan's request for the warrants will now be decided by an ICC panel made up of three judges. No public hearings will take place and no time frame has been set. These developments come against the backdrop of an ongoing investigation by the ICC on the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and the Gaza war that ensued. Khan visited Israel Nov. 30 at the invitation of families of victims of the Oct. 7 assault and also traveled to the West Bank to meet with the Palestinian leadership.

The ICC, established in 2002, is mandated to investigate and prosecute individuals over war crimes and crimes against humanity. Countries that are signatories to the Rome Statute, which forms the legal basis of the ICC, are legally required to detain any person under an arrest warrant on their territory. While Israel and the United States are not members of the ICC and therefore do not recognize its jurisdiction, the court claims to have jurisdiction over Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership agreed in principle in 2015 to abide by the court’s findings.

In parallel, the International Court of Justice is investigating a complaint submitted by South Africa Dec. 29, accusing Israel of committing genocidal acts in the Gaza Strip. The ICJ is mandated to investigate violations of the Geneva Convention, which was ratified by all UN member states. 

The ICJ held hearings on May 16 and 17 to discuss an additional demand by South Africa for the court to order Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip following the start of its military operation in eastern Rafah. The court is expected to render its decision in the coming days. 


In a statement Monday, President Joe Biden called the ICC's move "outrageous," adding, "Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security." Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, "We reject the prosecutor's equivalence of Israel with Hamas. It is shameful. Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of people hostage, including Americans." 

At the Likud faction meeting in Jerusalem Monday, Netanyahu called the ICC move a "scandal." Netanyahu told his party members, "This will not stop me or us."

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz issued a statement slamming Khan’s decision to charge Netanyahu and Gallant. "The outrageous decision by the ICC prosecutor constitutes a direct attack on the victims of Oct. 7 and our 128 hostages held in Gaza. While Hamas murderers and rapists commit crimes against humanity against our brothers and sisters, the prosecutor refers jointly to the Israeli prime minister and defense minister alongside the abominable Nazi monsters of Hamas — a historical disgrace that will be remembered forever." Katz said he will now establish a special task force within his ministry to campaign against the decision.

Leaders across Israel's political spectrum condemned the move, with opposition head Yair Lapid saying in a statement, “It is not possible to issue arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Sinwar and Deif. There is no such comparison. We cannot accept it and it is unforgivable."

Hamas denounced the ICC's move in a statement carried by Arabic-language media outlets on Monday, saying it came "seven months late." Hamas added that the ICC is falsely equating Sinwar with Netanyahu and Gallant and affirmed its right to resist Israel "in all forms."

"Hamas strongly denounces the ICC prosecutor's attempts to equate the victim with the executioner by issuing arrest warrants against several Palestinian resistance leaders without legal basis, in violation of international conventions and resolutions that gave the Palestinian people and all peoples of the world under occupation the right to resist the occupation in all forms," read the statement.

Netanyahu takes on ICC

After reports emerged last month that the ICC was considering issuing arrest warrants for Israeli political and military leaders, Netanyahu called the idea "scandalous." Netanyahu wrote on X April 26, "The threat to seize the soldiers and officials of the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish state is outrageous." Four days later, he said, "The possibility that they will issue arrest warrants for war crimes against IDF commanders and state leaders ... is a scandal on a historic scale."

In reaction, Khan issued a May 3 statement warning against any attempts to threaten the impartiality or independence of the ICC.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, representing the relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, welcomed the decision to issue warrants for senior Hamas officials, but criticized the parallel drawn between the architects of the Oct. 7 assault and the Israeli leadership. 

A statement issued by the group said that the decision to prosecute Hamas leaders "serves as further recognition of the crimes against humanity they committed on Oct. 7 and continue to perpetrate." Still, the statement went on, "The Families Forum is not comfortable with the equivalence drawn between Israel's leadership and the terrorists of Hamas."