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ICC Prosecutor pursues Israel and Hamas

24 May 2024


Palestinians wait for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza Strip on Sunday

Palestinians wait for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza Strip on Sunday

THE decision by the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Hamas and for the Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Israel has been welcomed by Christian Aid.

“The ICC Prosecutor has seen through the thicket of self-justifying legal rhetoric intended to stop this case,” the charity’s head of Middle East policy and advocacy, William Bell, said on Monday. “Today’s announcement is a clear sign that nobody is above the law and those responsible for crimes should be held accountable for their actions.”

The Prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, said on Monday that there were reasonable grounds to believe that three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, and taking hostages.

The grounds for the arrest of the two Israeli leaders included “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime . . . intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population [and] extermination and/or murder”.

The decision over whether to issue arrest warrants will be taken by the Pre-Trial Chambers, which must also confirm the alleged charges.

The British Government was critical of the inclusion of the Israeli leaders. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, said: “To draw moral equivalence between the Hamas leadership and the democratically elected leader of Israel, I think, is just plain wrong.”

Mr Bell said: “To avoid complicity, the UK Government cannot continue to provide arms to an Israeli government led by those for whom there are reasonable grounds to prosecute for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The prosecution’s case for action stood “in stark contrast to the inexcusable failure by Western powers to bring about a permanent ceasefire. Only that can stop the relentless slaughter of civilians to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza where people are dying and suffering every day.”

One of Christian Aid’s partners, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, was among organisations that provided advisory documentation to the ICC.

On Monday, the Security Council was told that 1.1 million people in Gaza faced “catastrophic levels of hunger”, and that the enclave “remains on the brink of famine”. The director of operations and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Edem Wosornu, reported that, in the past two weeks, more than 800,000 people had been displaced from Rafa, and the once over-crowded camps and emergency shelters had been “largely emptied” as people sought refuge in Khan Younis and Deir al Balah.

“The situation that people are finding on their arrival at new sites in these areas is horrendous,” she said. “There is exceedingly limited existing infrastructure: they lack adequate latrines, water points, drainage, and shelter.”

While welcoming the first aid shipment, delivered last Friday via the floating dock set up by the United States, Ms Wosomu emphasised that land routes “remain the most viable and effective way to deliver the scale of aid needed. . . The toll of death, injury, destruction in Gaza is utterly unconscionable. . . It is only a humanitarian ceasefire and a halt in the ground incursion in Rafah that will fully protect civilians, create the conditions for humanitarians to work to provide assistance at the scale required, and stem the endlessly deepening toll of this travesty in Gaza.”

In Israel, Mr Netanyahu is under pressure from members of his war cabinet. On Saturday, Benny Gantz, a retired army general, threatened to resign unless the Prime Minister set out a post-war plan for Gaza by 8 June: “If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss, we will be forced to quit the government.” Last week, the Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, said that he had urged the cabinet to set out a post-war plan for Gaza, including the creation of a new Palestinian civilian leadership.

On Wednesday, the governments of Norway, Ireland, and Spain announced that they would recognise an independent Palestinian state.

The Hamas-run health ministry reports that more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October. Last Friday, the Israeli army announced that it had retrieved from the Gaza Strip the bodies of three Israeli hostages taken from the Nova music festival on 7 October.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that medical workers in Israel had told it that Palestinian detainees from Gaza were “routinely kept shackled to hospital beds, blindfolded, sometimes naked, and forced to wear nappies”. Whistle-blowers raised the alarm about procedures carried out without painkillers. One detainee told the BBC that his leg had to be amputated because he was denied treatment for an infected wound.

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