Tue 21 May 2024 1:36 pm - Jerusalem Time

In response to ICC warrants, US says Hamas should be ‘killed’ or prosecuted by Israel

Israel should hold Hamas 'accountable on the battlefield', if not, then in a court of law, says State Department spokesperson

The first way that Hamas's top leadership should be prosecuted for war crimes in the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza is by being killed by Israel's military, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said during a news briefing on Monday.

"We absolutely believe that Hamas should be held accountable. That could either be through the prosecution of the war effort by Israel. It could be by being killed. It could be by being brought to justice in an Israeli court," Miller told a crowd of reporters at the State Department.

"The Israeli government should hold them accountable on the battlefield. And if not a battlefield, then a court of law."

The comments came in response to an announcement made earlier on Monday by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, in which Khan said he was seeking arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders: its political leader Ismail Haniyeh, the head of its armed wing, Ibrahim al-Masri, better known as Mohammed Deif, and the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

The prosecutor said the warrants were based on alleged war crimes perpetrated by Hamas in the 7 October attacks in which Palestinian fighters broke out of Gaza and killed around 1,200 people in southern Israel and took over 200 hostages.

Khan also announced he would be issuing arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for their roles in the ongoing war on Gaza.

Gallant and Netanyahu face war crimes and crimes against humanity charges over the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, intentional targeting of civilians, extermination, murder and other war crimes.

"Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population. That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any State of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law," Khan wrote in his announcement.

The Biden administration has dismissed the arrest warrants, saying that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the case, given that neither Israel nor Palestine is a party to the court.

Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which gives the ICC its mandate, and Palestine is not an officially recognised state in the international community - but it has signed the statute.

 “We reject the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas. It is shameful,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The White House put out a short statement after the ICC announcement, condemning the move. 

"The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence - none - between Israel and Hamas."

Blinken also alleged that Khan's announcement surprised Israel, given that it came on the same day his staff was supposed to travel to Israel to arrange the prosecutor's visit.

“These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation,” Blinken said.

US officials told Middle East Eye last week that the United States is focused on tracking down Sinwar amid a new push by the White House to help Israel declare "total victory" so it can bring an end to the war. 

Current and former US officials, who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the mission, said the US was expanding its search efforts across the region, after believing the 61-year-old was hiding in tunnels deep below Gaza.

Bernie Sanders: Khan is 'right to take action'

The statement from the ICC prosecutor is likely to create a rift among the Democratic base, which is already divided in its support for US President Joe Biden's approach to the war on Gaza.

Biden has thrown his full support behind Israel, fast-tracking weapons shipments while providing a diplomatic shield for Israel at the United Nations.

"These arrest warrants may or may not be carried out, but it is imperative that the global community uphold international law,"

Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in the Senate and a centrist Democrat, said he was fiercely opposed to the ICC's move.

However, Bernie Sanders, a leading independent Senator who champions progressive causes, said Khan "is right to take these actions".

"These arrest warrants may or may not be carried out, but it is imperative that the global community uphold international law," Sanders said in a statement.

"Without these standards of decency and morality, this planet may rapidly descend into anarchy, never-ending wars, and barbarism."


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In response to ICC warrants, US says Hamas should be ‘killed’ or prosecuted by Israel