US lawmakers advance bill to sanction ICC over Israel probe

The ICC's prosecutor has said Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (L) should be arrested on charges relating to the war in Gaza (Alberto PIZZOLI)
The ICC's prosecutor has said Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (L) should be arrested on charges relating to the war in Gaza (Alberto PIZZOLI)

The US House of Representatives voted Tuesday to advance a largely symbolic bill calling for sanctions on the International Criminal Court after its prosecutor applied for an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Hague-based court's prosecutor has said Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant should be arrested on charges relating to the war in Gaza, along with three leaders of militant group Hamas.

The US House's Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act -- backed by almost every Republican and around a fifth of the Democrats -- would bar US entry for ICC officials involved with the case, revoking their visas and restricting any US-based property transactions.

"Today's vote draws a line in the sand for lawless action by ICC officials," Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement.

"The US firmly stands with Israel and refuses to allow international bureaucrats to baselessly issue arrest warrants to Israeli leadership for false crimes."

The legislation is considered a "messaging bill," however, as it is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-run Senate and could be vetoed in any case by President Joe Biden, who has said he "strongly opposes" it.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said last month he was seeking warrants for the two Israelis -- as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif -- on suspicions of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC's 124 member states will ultimately decide whether to enforce any warrants issued by its judges. Neither Israel nor the United states are members.

While the White House has criticized the ICC, and Biden called the application for arrest warrants "outrageous," US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week that sanctions were not "the right approach."

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller reaffirmed the policy on Tuesday, telling reporters ahead of the vote: "Our position as the administration is we don't support sanctions. We don't believe it is appropriate at this time."

Netanyahu said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the US stance in an interview broadcast Sunday, amid strained relations between Washington and its ally over the rising death toll in Gaza.

Biden announced on Friday that Israel was offering a new roadmap towards a permanent peace, outlining a three-phase proposal that would start with a six-week complete ceasefire.

But Netanyahu insisted his country would still pursue the war until it had reached all its goals.

Hostilities in Gaza broke out when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in 1,194 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

At least 36,550 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the conflict, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.

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