World reacts to ICC prosecutor seeking Israel, Hamas arrest warrants

The global court’s chief prosecutor says he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has applied for arrest warrants against top Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday that his office had applied for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged crimes committed during the Hamas-led October 7 attack on southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza.

Khan announced his office had “reasonable grounds” to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant bear “criminal responsibility” for “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Khan also applied for arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri (also known as Deif) – for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Here are some reactions to the announcement:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu said the ICC decision was a disgrace and an attack on Israel.

“I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in The Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

“With what audacity do you compare Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, decapitated, raped and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the [Israeli army] soldiers fighting a just war?”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog

Herzog said that “any attempt to draw parallels between these atrocious terrorists and a democratically elected government of Israel – working to fulfil its duty to defend and protect its citizens entirely in adherence to the principles of international law – is outrageous and cannot be accepted by anyone”.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich

Smotrich likened the announcement by the ICC prosecutor on seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli officials to Nazi propaganda.

“We haven’t seen such a show of hypocrisy and hatred of Jews like that of the Hague Tribunal since Nazi propaganda,” Smotrich said on X.

Hamas

Hamas denounced the ICC prosecutor’s decision to seek arrest warrants against its leaders, accusing Karim Khan of trying to “equate the victim with the executioner”.

The group said it demanded the cancellation of the request, adding that Khan’s application for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant had come “seven months too late”.

Gaza Media Office

The Government Media Office in Gaza has welcomed the ICC’s decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, and also denounced the decision to apply for warrants for Hamas leaders.

“We appreciate the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for two Zionist war criminals,” a statement from the office begins.

“We see the issuance of these memorandums as a legal step in the right direction, despite the fact that they came late,” it continues.

The office also said it “deplores the fact that this step was accompanied by the issuance of similar decisions against some of the leaders of our people”, referring to requests for arrest warrants against several Hamas officials.

Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee

Yousef said that the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves.

“The ICC is required to issue arrest warrants against Israeli officials who are pursuing crimes of genocide in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative

Barghouti has said that the ICC’s step affirms “that no one is immune from international law”.

“We consider this to be the first step towards condemning the crimes of genocide committed by the rulers and army of Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza and holding them accountable for committing these crimes according to international law and international humanitarian law,” Barghouti said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden

In a statement, Biden called the application for an arrest warrant for Netanyahu and Gallant “outrageous”.

“Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Blinken said in a statement that the United States rejects the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli officials and Hamas.

He reiterated President Biden’s stance and said: “We reject the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas.”

France

France said it has long warned of the consequences of violating international humanitarian law, particularly in regards to the “unacceptable” number of civilians killed in Gaza, as well as “insufficient humanitarian access”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it supported the ICC, “its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations”.

But the statement fell short of explicitly saying that France supported Khan for seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders.

The statement added that France supports a “lasting political solution in the region”, saying it is the only way that will “put an end to the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

The United Kingdom prime minister’s spokesperson said the ICC’s decision “is not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in”.

“The UK, as with other countries, does not yet recognise Palestine as a state and Israel is not a state party to the Rome Statute”, which outlines the ICC’s areas of jurisdiction, the spokesperson added.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory

Francesca Albanese said she understands that for the people of war-torn Gaza, the ICC prosecutor’s move may appear too little, too late.

But “for me, it’s a historical, historical day,” Albanese told Al Jazeera.

“It’s not a small thing that the ICC prosecutor [is seeking] arrest warrants for two Israeli leaders and it’s not just for war crimes … it’s for crimes that have been committed intentionally and wilfully – the all-state policy that has animated this campaign against the population in Gaza is put into question,” she said.

“Without condoning or justifying the crimes that have been committed by Hamas, these crimes should have been investigated, and prosecuted. It shouldn’t have given leeway to Israel to start a war which has turned into a genocidal war against the entire Palestinian population.

“Palestine was a litmus test for the credibility of the court and this prosecutor in particular. And after October 7, after October 8, he was compelled to act,” she added.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib

Lahbib said that any crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level.

“The request submitted by the Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, for arrest warrants against both Hamas and Israeli officials is an important step in the investigation of the situation in Palestine,” she wrote on X.

“Belgium will continue to support the essential work of international justice to ensure that those responsible for all crimes are held accountable,” the minister added.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer

Chancellor Nehammer said that Austria fully respects the independence of the ICC but said the move to seek arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas officials at the same time was “non-comprehensible”.

“The fact however that the leader of the terrorist organisation Hamas whose declared goal is the extinction of the State of Israel is being mentioned at the same time as the democratically elected representatives of that very State is non-comprehensible,” he said.

Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala

“The ICC Chief Prosecutor’s proposal to issue an arrest warrant for the representatives of a democratically elected government together with the leaders of an Islamist terrorist organisation is appalling and completely unacceptable,” said Fiala.

“We must not forget that it was Hamas that attacked Israel in October and killed, injured and kidnapped thousands of innocent people. It was this completely unprovoked terrorist attack that led to the current war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.”

Palestinian rights groups

The rights organisations Al-Haq, Al Mezan, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said Khan’s decision was “a crucial step” towards ending impunity in Israel’s war on Gaza.

In a statement, the three groups said the ICC announcement follows “tireless efforts by Palestinian and international civil society organisations demanding the issuance of arrest warrants” for members of Israel’s war cabinet.

“While we welcome the issuing of charges for crimes against humanity, there is also a public catalogue of genocidal statements of intent to destroy Palestinians in Gaza, including through the intentional denial of aid,” they said.

“For these reasons, genocide as an additional crime should be included in an amendment to the charges.”

Israeli rights group

B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, said: “The era of impunity for Israeli decision-makers is over.

“The international community is signalling to Israel that it can no longer maintain its policy of violence, killing and destruction without accountability. Likewise, the request for arrest warrants against Hamas leaders for the crimes of October 7 is important and draws a red line where harm to civilians is concerned,” it said in a statement.

“The ICC intervention and ICJ rulings are a chance for us, Israelis, to realise what we should have understood long ago: that upholding a regime of supremacy, violence and oppression necessarily involves crimes and severe violation of human rights.”

UN special rapporteur on the right to housing

Balakrishnan Rajagopal welcomed Khan’s arrest warrant requests and said he believed the charges against Israeli leaders were “likely to stick”.

“On the request by the ICC Prosecutor for warrants: against Hamas, the charges of hostage taking and killing likely to stand but not others,” Rajagopal posted on X.

“Against Israeli leaders, all charges likely to stick. And missing charges include attacks against various civilian objects including homes!”

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

The international rights organisation welcomed the ICC’s decision.

“Victims of serious abuses in Israel and Palestine have faced a wall of impunity for decades. This principled first step by the prosecutor opens the door to those responsible for the atrocities committed in recent months to answer for their actions at a fair trial,” HRW said.

“ICC member countries should stand ready to resolutely protect the ICC’s independence as hostile pressure is likely to increase while the ICC judges consider [Prosecutor Karim] Khan’s request.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies