US rejects ICC prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister following their talks in Kyiv on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
Brendan Smialowski, Pool Photo via AP

By The Associated Press undefined

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor said Monday that he’s 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. The U.S. later issued a statement saying it “fundamentally rejects” Prosecutor Karim Khan’s “equivalence of Israel with Hamas.”

“It is shameful,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in written statement. “Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization 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 U.S. position that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the conflict.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks before boarding a plane, Wednesday Oct. 11, 2023, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Israel.AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool

Khan’s announcement came as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — one of those for whom 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 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.

ICC prosecutor Khan said he believes Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

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FILE – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 24, 2023. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday, May 20, 2024 he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas.AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Gallant and the Israeli military leadership in Tel Aviv earlier Monday. Sullivan’s visit comes two weeks into the military’s foray into Rafah, where troops have been battling Hamas fighters and escalating bombardment.

“I emphasized to him (Sullivan) Israel’s duty to expand the ground operation in Rafah, to dismantle Hamas and to return the hostages,” 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’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 250.

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Cars are on fire after they were hit by rockets from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, File

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, Sullivan was also discussing postwar plans for Gaza at a time when Netanyahu faces criticism from the other members of his War Cabinet. 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 postwar Gaza.