Published: 09:42, May 21, 2024 | Updated: 11:15, May 21, 2024
ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Israeli, Hamas leaders
By Agencies
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attend a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct 28, 2023. (PHOTO / POOL VIA AP)

THE HAGUE/GAZA/BEIRUT - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said Monday he is applying for arrest warrants for two Israeli government officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and three Hamas leaders.

Karim Khan said in a statement that he has "reasonable grounds to believe" that Netanyahu and Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant, bear responsibility for "war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed in the Gaza Strip since Oct 8, 2023.

The three Hamas leaders are Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri (Deif) and Ismail Haniyeh, who the ICC prosecutor said are responsible for "war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed on the territory of Israel and in the Gaza Strip since Oct 7, 2023.

READ MORE: Israel launches strikes across Gaza as US envoy meets Netanyahu

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

US President Joe Biden called the legal step "outrageous", while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it could jeopardize negotiations on a hostage deal and ceasefire

Evidence his office collected showed Israel had systematically deprived civilians of "objects indispensable to human survival" including food, water, medicine and energy, Khan said. Netanyahu and Gallant bore responsibility, he said, for Israel wilfully causing great suffering and for killing as a war crime.

The Hamas leaders face allegations of bearing responsibility for crimes committed by Hamas including extermination and murder, the taking of hostages, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence.

Exterior view of the headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan 12, 2016. (PHOTO / AP)

A panel of pre-trial judges will determine whether the evidence supports the arrest warrants. But the court has no means to enforce such warrants, and its investigation into the Gaza war has been opposed by the United States and Israel.

READ MORE: 20 killed in Israeli airstrike on refugee camp in central Gaza

Israel and Palestinian leaders have dismissed allegations of war crimes, and representatives for both sides criticized Khan's decision.

"I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas," Netanyahu said, calling the move a "complete distortion of reality".

US President Joe Biden called the legal step "outrageous", while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it could jeopardize negotiations on a hostage deal and ceasefire.

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Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the prosecutor's decision to request warrants for the three Hamas leaders "equates the victim with the executioner". Hamas demanded the arrest warrant request for its leaders be canceled.

Palestinians salvage items from the rubble of a family house that was hit overnight in Israeli bombardment in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah in southern Gaza on May 20, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Hezbollah members killed in Israeli strikes

The Palestinian death toll from ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip has risen to 35,562, Gaza health authorities said in a press statement on Monday.

During the past 24 hours, the Israeli army killed 106 Palestinians and wounded 176 others, bringing the total death toll to 35,562 and injuries to 79,652 since the Palestinian-Israeli conflict broke out last October.

The statement noted that some victims remained under the rubble amid heavy bombardment and a lack of rescue crews.

READ MORE: 1 killed, 5 wounded in Hezbollah missile attack on N. Israel

Meanwhile in Lebanon, military sources said five Hezbollah members were killed and five others were injured on Monday in Israeli air strikes on several villages and towns in the southern part of the country.

The sources confirmed that the killed man, named Qasim Saqlawi, was a local official of Hezbollah from the southern municipality of Deir Qanoun En Nahr

The sources, who spoke anonymously with Xinhua, said that Israeli warplanes carried out four raids on the southwest town of Naqoura, killing two Hezbollah members and wounding three others.

An Israeli attack on Monday evening on a motorcycle in the southern village of Mansouri also killed a Hezbollah official and wounded a civilian. Sources said an Israeli drone fired two air-to-surface missiles at the motorcycle that was traveling in Mansouri in the Tyre district, killing its driver and wounding a passerby.

The sources confirmed that the killed man, named Qasim Saqlawi, was a local official of Hezbollah from the southern municipality of Deir Qanoun En Nahr.

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Ramiah on May 18, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Israel also implemented two raids on the southeast village of Mays al-Jabal, killing two Hezbollah members and injuring another one, and a raid on the town of al-Qusayr on the Lebanese-Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, killing a Hezbollah member and injuring another.

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Hezbollah said its fighters responded by attacking several Israeli sites.

Tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border escalated on Oct 8, 2023, following a barrage of rockets launched by the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah toward Israel in solidarity with Hamas' attack on Israel the day before. Israel then retaliated by firing heavy artillery toward southeastern Lebanon.

The confrontations between Hezbollah and Israel have killed 477 people on the Lebanese side, including 301 Hezbollah members and 89 civilians, according to Lebanese security sources.