Israel Tries to Contain the Fallout After Some Allies Support ICC Prosecutor's Request for Warrants

Smoke rises to the sky after explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel
Smoke rises to the sky after explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

JERUSALEM — Israel sought Tuesday to contain the fallout from a request by the chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, a move supported by three European countries, including key ally France.

Belgium, Slovenia and France each said Monday they backed the decision by International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan, who accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense minister and three Hamas leaders of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

While no one faces imminent arrest, the announcement deepens Israel's global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war in Gaza. Support for the warrants from three European Union countries also exposes divisions in the West's approach to Israel.

    Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, and his meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders.

    Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel itself is not a member of the court.

    The prosecutor also requested warrants for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas is already considered an international terrorist group by the West. Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region. Qatar, like Israel, is not a member of the ICC.

    As Israeli leaders came to grips with the prosecutor's decision, violence continued in the region, with an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank killing at least seven Palestinians, including a local doctor, according to Palestinian health officials.

    In a statement Monday night about the warrant requests, France said it “supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

    “France has been warning for many months about the imperative of strict compliance with international humanitarian law and in particular about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and insufficient humanitarian access,” said the statement from France, which has a large Jewish community and close trade and diplomatic ties with Israel.

    The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostage. Khan accused Hamas’ leaders of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.

    Israel responded with an offensive, which has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count. The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has displaced much of the coastal enclave’s population and driven parts of it to starvation, which Khan said Israel used as a “method of warfare.”

    Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said Monday in a post on social media platform X that “crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators.”

    Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the prosecutor's move as disgraceful and antisemitic. U.S. President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. The United Kingdom called the move “not helpful,” saying the ICC does not have jurisdiction in the case, while Israeli ally Czech Republic called Khan's decision “appalling and completely unacceptable.”

    A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

    Experts warned that any warrants could complicate relations between Israel and even allies that condemned the move.

    Yuval Kaplinsky, a former senior official in Israel’s Justice Ministry, said countries that are party to the court would be obliged to arrest Netanyahu or Gallant if they visit, although he said some of those countries might find legal loopholes that could help them avoid that.

    “They would prefer (that) Netanyahu does not visit rather than have him visit in London and have the entire world watch him avoid extradition,” Kaplinsky said.

    Since the war began, violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank.

    On Tuesday, an Israeli raid into the Jenin refugee camp and the adjacent city of Jenin killed at least seven Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

    The military said its forces struck militants during the operation while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group said its fighters battled the Israeli forces.

    However, according to Wissam Abu Baker, the director of Jenin Governmental Hospital, the medical center’s surgery specialist, Ossayed Kamal Jabareen, was among the dead. He was killed on his way to work, Abu Baker said.

    Jenin and the refugee camp, seen as a hotbed of militancy, have been frequent targets of Israeli raids, long before Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza broke out.

    Since the start of the war, nearly 500 Palestinians have been killed in West Bank fighting, many of them militants, as well as others throwing stones or explosives at troops. Others not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.

    Israel says it is cracking down on soaring militancy in the territory, pointing to a spike in attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. It has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians since the start of the war in Gaza.

    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem, which it later annexed, and the Gaza Strip, which it withdrew troops and settlers from in 2005. Palestinians seek those territories as part of their future independent state, hopes for which have been dimmed since the war in Gaza erupted.


    Associated Press journalists Majdi Mohammed in the Jenin refugee camp, West Bank, Jack Jeffery in Jerusalem, John Leicester in Paris, Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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