Biden attacks 'outrageous' ICC arrest warrant for Netanyahu over war crimes

Yahya Sinwar (left), head of Hamas in Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: AP

US President Joe Biden has criticised the "outrageous" arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of Hamas, saying there could be no equivalency between the two.

The warrants released by ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan seek the arrest of Netanyahu, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and two other top Hamas leaders - Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, the leader of the Al Qassem Brigades, and the group's political leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

Mr Khan issued the warrants on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks and the war in Gaza.

A panel of ICC judges will now consider Khan’s application for the arrest warrants.

Pictures of Israeli hostages on a wall in Tel Aviv. Credit: AP

The move, the first time the ICC has targeted a close ally of the United States, was described by the Israeli foreign minister as a "historic disgrace," and vowed to fight back.

In a statement from the White House, Mr Biden said: "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."

In a statement, Mr Khan said the charges against Sinwar, Haniyeh and al-Masri included “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape and sexual assault in detention”.

Hamas denounced the ICC prosecutor, accusing him of trying to "equate the victim with the executioner".

Speaking of Israeli actions, Khan said in a statement: "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, including local and international medical doctors.

"They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women."

In the same statement, he said had seen for himself the "devastating scenes" of Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 and witnessed "the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes charged in the applications filed today".

Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from Rafah. Credit: AP

"Speaking with survivors, I heard how the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness," he said. "These acts demand accountability."

In response, a spokesperson for the British government said the ICC's actions would not help "get hostages out, get aid in, or deliver a sustainable ceasefire," with that remaining "the UK's priority".

The spokesperson added: "As we have said from the outset, we do not think the ICC has jurisdiction in this case.

"The UK has not yet recognised Palestine as a state, and Israel is not a state party to the Rome Statute."

The ICC was established in 2002 as the permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals responsible for the world’s most heinous atrocities - war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. The ICC does not have a police force and relies on member states to arrest suspects - including Russian President Vladimir Putin - which has proven to be a major obstacle to prosecutions.

Netanyahu has previously said Israel “will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defence”.

“While the ICC will not affect Israel’s actions, it would set a dangerous precedent,” he wrote on X in April.

Israel and the United States are not members of the ICC although the court claims to have jurisdiction over Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank after Palestinian leaders formally agreed to be bound by its founding principles in 2015.

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