ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Hamas leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor applies for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant, and top Hamas leaders, charging them with war crimes and crimes against humanity from the October 7 attacks and ensuing Gaza conflict.


The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced a formal application for arrest warrants targeting both Israeli and Hamas leaders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This unprecedented move follows the October 7 attack by Palestinian militants and the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza in response, marking a significant moment in international law and justice.

The announcement comes in the wake of a devastating conflict that began on October 7, when Palestinian militants launched an attack on Israel, prompting a severe military response from the Israeli government. The conflict has resulted in significant loss of life and widespread destruction, particularly in Gaza.

The ICC, established to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, has jurisdiction over Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. This is due to the Palestinian leaders’ formal agreement to be bound by the court’s founding principles in 2015.

Charges Against Israeli Leaders

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan has specifically named Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in the application for arrest warrants. The charges against them include:

Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare: Accused under article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute.

Wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health: Contrary to article 8(2)(a)(iii).

Wilful killing: Contravening article 8(2)(a)(i).

Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population: Violating articles 8(2)(b)(i).

Extermination and/or murder: Under articles 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(a), including deaths caused by starvation.

Persecution: As a crime against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(h).

Other inhumane acts: As crimes against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(k).

“Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population,” said Khan. “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any State of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

Khan also announced arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders: Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh. The specific charges against these leaders include:

Extermination: As a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(b) of the Rome Statute.

Murder: As a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(a), and as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i).

Taking hostages: As a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(iii).

Rape and other acts of sexual violence: As crimes against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(g), and as war crimes under article 8(2)(e)(vi).

Torture: As a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(f), and as a war crime, under article 8(2)(c)(i).

Other inhumane acts: As a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(k).

Cruel treatment: As a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i).

Outrages upon personal dignity: As a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(ii).

Khan stated that Sinwar, Deif, and Haniyeh are “criminally responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians in attacks perpetrated by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October 2023 and the taking of at least 245 hostages.”

The announcement has elicited strong reactions from around the world. Alonso Gurmendi, a lecturer on international relations at Kings College, London, highlighted the severity of the charges, noting, “There’s no spinning this one: Israel’s President and Minister of Defense are formally accused at the ICC of ‘exterminating’ Palestinians in the course of a starvation campaign.”

Beatrice Fihn, former head of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), called the development “absolutely massive,” emphasizing that “the Prime Minister of Israel is a war criminal, and the impact of this will be very significant for all western countries that sell weapons to Israel.”

Netanyahu has previously condemned the ICC’s actions, stating that any arrest warrants against Israeli officials “would be an outrage of historic proportions,” asserting Israel’s independent legal system investigates all violations of the law rigorously. Khan responded by asserting, “Nobody is above the law.”

The ICC’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not new. In March 2021, the court launched an investigation into possible crimes committed in the Palestinian territories since June 2014. The Rome Statute, which established the ICC, mandates that the court investigates and prosecutes individuals for the gravest offenses under international law, even if their home countries do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

The application for arrest warrants now awaits a decision from the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber, which will assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused committed the alleged crimes. If approved, the arrest warrants would significantly hinder the international travel of the accused Israeli and Hamas leaders, especially to countries that are signatories of the Rome Statute.

“This is how we will prove, tangibly, that the lives of all human beings have equal value,” Khan stated. “Now, more than ever, we must collectively demonstrate that international humanitarian law applies to all individuals and applies equally.”

“The world was shocked on the 7th of October when people were ripped from their bedrooms, from their homes,” said Khan. “People have suffered enormously.”


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