Splitting the Baby

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The chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court is seeking arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity for the leaders of Israel and Hamas for their actions during the seven-month war, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said the arrest warrants targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. The detention orders were also issued for top Hamas officials, including Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader in Gaza, and its political chief, Ismail Haniyeh.

Khan said there were “reasonable grounds” showing that Netanyahu and Gallant bear responsibility for a series of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed in the Palestinian enclave from Oct. 8.

He reiterated similar accusations for top Hamas officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated on Israeli territory and the Gaza Strip from at least Oct. 7 – the day when Hamas and its allies launched an attack in southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.

Among the list of crimes, the Israeli leaders are accused of the willful killing of civilians, starvation as a method of warfare, and persecution. Meanwhile, Hamas officials are accused of extermination, kidnapping, rape and sexual violence, according to Khan.

The arrest warrants come as the conflict in Gaza has entered its eighth month, with the fighting sparking a humanitarian crisis in the territory and resulting in the deaths of more than 35,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

Israel previously warned that the issuance of arrest warrants could stymie efforts to end the conflict and reach a deal for the release of the remaining hostages.

The court has yet to decide whether to comply with the request, but observers say that Khan’s actions further tarnish Israel’s international standing amid ongoing criticism of its operations in the Palestinian territory.

Following Khan’s announcement, Israeli leaders across the political aisle criticized it as a “scandalous decision” and “a complete moral failure.” An Israeli government official accused the ICC prosecutor of crossing “a red line in his lawfare efforts against the lone Jewish state and the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, Hamas admonished the warrants as an attempt to “equate victims with aggressors by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders without legal basis,” according to CNN.

Established in 2002, the Netherlands-based ICC is tasked with prosecuting individuals for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The tribunal can investigate alleged crimes if they occur on the territory of, or are committed by a national of, any state that has accepted its jurisdiction by signing the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the court.

Any signatory country can request the ICC’s prosecutor to start an investigation. Signatory states are also required to apprehend individuals with arrest warrants, but leaders often try to avoid these warrants, limiting their mobility.

Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.

Even so, the court recognized the State of Palestine as a signatory in 2015 and asserted its jurisdiction over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 2021.

Palestine is not recognized by the US, Israel or numerous other countries.

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