ICC warrants for Netanyahu and Hamas chiefs ‘deeply unhelpful’ says Sunak

Seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders is “deeply unhelpful” and will make no difference to getting aid into Gaza and reaching a sustainable ceasefire, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said he will apply for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with defence minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas leaders Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

Mr Sunak branded the move a “deeply unhelpful development”, as he insisted there is no moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel’s government.

Karim Khan, the British chief prosecutor of the ICC, claimed the leaders are responsible for war crimes in Gaza and Israel.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Austria, the Prime Minister said: “This is a deeply unhelpful development. Of course it is still subject to a final decision, but it remains deeply unhelpful nonetheless.

“There is no moral equivalence between a democratic state exercising its lawful right to self-defence and the terrorist group Hamas.”

He added: “It is wrong to conflate and equivocate between those two different entities.

“What I am very clear is that this will make absolutely no difference in getting a pause in the fighting, getting aid into the region, or indeed the hostages out.”

Mr Khan, a KC specialising in international human rights law who was elected to his ICC position in February 2021, accused Israel of using “starvation as a method of warfare” and carrying out “collective punishment” of the population of Gaza.

Regarding the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, he said the terrorist actions were “unconscionable crimes” that “demand accountability”.

Deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell has cast doubt on the ICC’s jurisdiction over the case, telling the Commons the UK has not recognised Palestine as a state, while Israel is “not a state party to the Rome Statute”.

The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC, with Israel not a signatory to it.

A report by a panel of international law experts, convened by the ICC prosecutor, agreed that the ICC has “jurisdiction in relation to crimes committed on the territory of Palestine, including Gaza, since 13 June 2014” under Article 12 of the Rome Statute.

A panel of three ICC judges must consider Mr Khan’s application, in a process that takes an average of two months.

As Israel is not a member of the ICC, neither Mr Netanyahu nor Mr Gallant would be at immediate risk of arrest should the judges agree to issue warrants, but it could make it difficult for either man to travel abroad.

Justice Ministers’ conference
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan (centre) claimed the Israeli and Hamas leaders are responsible for war crimes (Yui Mok/PA)

Two of the Hamas leaders named by Mr Khan are believed to be in hiding in Gaza, but Mr Haniyeh, the group’s overall leader, is based in Qatar.

Individuals subject to outstanding ICC arrest warrants include Omar al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan alleged to be responsible for war crimes in Darfur, Saif Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.

Meanwhile, a watchdog has warned that UK aid is still largely being blocked from entering Gaza despite diplomatic efforts.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) said in its latest report that aid convoys travelling into Gaza via land crossings are subject to exhaustive inspections by Israeli forces to prevent the delivery of “dual use” items that might benefit Hamas or be used as a weapon.

This leads to trucks frequently being delayed or turned back, according to the ICAI.