France backs court's 'fight against impunity'

Gallant blasts ICC’s Khan for ‘despicable’ Israel-Hamas parallel in warrant bid

Defense minister says prosecutor’s decision to seek arrests of Israeli leaders is an attempt to deny Israel the right to defend itself and secure the release of the hostages

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on the southern border with the Gaza Strip, May 15, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on the southern border with the Gaza Strip, May 15, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday described a request by the International Criminal Court prosecutor for arrest warrants against him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside three Hamas leaders, as drawing a “despicable” parallel, saying it was an attempt to deny Israel the right to defend itself.

“Since October 7, the State of Israel is fighting against a brutal terrorist organization, Hamas — an enemy that conducted atrocities against Israeli children, women, and men. Now, it also uses its own people as human shields,” Gallant said in a statement, his first public comment since the announcement.

“The IDF is fighting in accordance with international law, while taking unprecedented measures to facilitate humanitarian aid,” Gallant said, noting that he takes pride in the country’s soldiers and their conduct.

“The attempt made by the ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to overturn things will not succeed — the parallel he has drawn between the Hamas terrorist organization and the State of Israel is despicable,” he said.

“The State of Israel is not a party to the Court and does not recognize its authority,” Gallant said.

“Prosecutor Karim Khan’s attempt to deny the State of Israel the right to defend herself and ensure the release of the hostages held in Gaza must be rejected explicitly,” the defense minister said. It is believed that 124 of the hostages abducted by Hamas-led terrorists on October 7 remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan at the Cour d’Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris on February 7, 2024. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

Khan announced Monday that he would seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant alongside three leaders of the Hamas terrorist organization.

Khan said the charges against Israel’s premier and defense chief were for the crimes of “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.”

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” said Khan in reference to Netanyahu and Gallant.

Khan said he was also applying for arrest warrants against Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s ruler in Gaza; the terror group’s military chief, Mohammed Deif; and the leader of the organization, Ismail Haniyeh. He said they would be charged with extermination, murder, hostage-taking, rape, and sexual assault.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas and other armed groups pursuant to organizational policies,” read the statement.

Palestinians take a kidnapped Israeli civilian, center, from the Nir Oz kibbutz into the Gaza Strip, on October 7, 2023. (Hatem Ali/ AP)

It will be up to the court’s pre-trial judges to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to issue warrants.

Israel is not a member of the court, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution.

But Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead with its war sparked by the devastating October 7 attack, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Palestinians storm trucks loaded with aid brought in through a new US-built pier, in the central Gaza Strip, May 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Meanwhile, international reaction to Khan’s announcement continued on Tuesday.

The Kremlin said it was very “curious” that the United States appeared ready to use sanctions against the ICC.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that as Russia was not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, Moscow did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin last year.

France said in a statement that it backs the ICC and the “fight against impunity.”

“As far as Israel is concerned, it will be up to the court’s pre-trial chamber to decide whether to issue these warrants, after examining the evidence put forward by the prosecutor,” the French foreign ministry said.

China said it hoped the court will uphold an “objective and impartial” position.

“It is hoped that the ICC will uphold its objective and impartial position and exercise its powers in accordance with the law,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, while calling for an end to the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

On Monday, US President Joe Biden called Khan’s decision “outrageous” while a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the decision by the ICC prosecutor was “not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in.”

Both Israel and Hamas decried being equated with one another, and Israeli officials and politicians across the board reacted with anger and outrage to the decision.

Netanyahu said that the “absurd and false warrant by the prosecutor in The Hague is directed not only against the prime minister of Israel and the defense minister but against the entire State of Israel.”

The premier said he rejected “with disgust” to Khan’s ostensible comparison, and said it is an example of “the new antisemitism” that has moved from college campuses to The Hague.

Jeremy Sharon and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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