Israeli officials concerned about possible ICC arrest warrants as pressure mounts over war in Gaza

AP , Monday 29 Apr 2024

Israeli officials on Monday appeared to be increasingly concerned that the International Criminal Court may issue arrest warrants against the country’s leaders, as international pressure mounts over its war on the Gaza Strip.

Children walk in a camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP


Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight and into Monday killed at least 22 people, including six women and five children, one of whom was just 5 days old, according to hospital records and an Associated Press reporter.

The ICC launched a probe three years ago into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants going back to the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, but it has given no indication such warrants are imminent. There was no comment from the court on Monday.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said late Sunday that it had informed Israeli missions of “rumours” that warrants might be issued against senior political and military officials. It was not clear what sparked the Israeli concerns.

"We expect the court to prevent the issuance of arrest warrants against senior Israeli officials,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said, adding that such warrants would “provide a morale boost” to Hamas and other militant groups.

A series of Israeli announcements in recent days about allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza meanwhile appears to be aimed in part at heading off possible ICC action.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel “will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defence.”

“The threat to seize the soldiers and officials of the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish state is outrageous. We will not bow to it,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. It was not clear what prompted the post.

The ICC investigation covers allegations going back to the 2014 war in Gaza as well as Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements in occupied territory that the Palestinians want for a future state.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said during a visit to the region in December that the investigation is “moving forward at pace, with rigor, with determination and with an insistence that we act not on emotion but on solid evidence.”

Neither Israel nor its close ally the United States accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, but any warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest in other countries. They would also serve as a major rebuke of Israel’s actions at a time when pro-Palestinian protests have spread across US college campuses.

The International Court of Justice, a separate body, is investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in the ongoing war in Gaza, with any ruling expected to take years. Israel has rejected allegations of wrongdoing and accused both international courts of bias.

Israel launched a massive air, sea and ground offensive that has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

The Israeli military claims it has killed over 12,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The war has driven around 80% of Gaza's population of 2.3 million from their homes, caused vast destruction in several towns and cities, and pushed northern Gaza to the brink of famine.

Israel has vowed to expand its ground offensive to the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where over 1 million Palestinians have sought shelter from fighting elsewhere. 

US President Joe Biden's administration, which has provided crucial military and political support for the offensive, has urged Israel not to invade Rafah over fears it could cause a humanitarian catastrophe, concerns he reiterated in a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit Israel on his latest visit to the region, which began in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

The US, Egypt and Qatar are meanwhile pushing Israel and Hamas to accept an agreement they drafted that would free some of the captives and bring about at least a temporary cease-fire. Hamas is still believed to be holding around 100 captives and the remains of some 30 others after most of the rest were freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners last year.

Hamas has said it will not release the remaining captives without an agreement to end the war. Netanyahu has rejected that demand, saying Israel will continue its offensive until Hamas is destroyed and all the captives are returned.

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