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The ICC is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has announced it is seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Hamas and Israel, and that includes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The charges are war crimes and crimes against humanity. NPR Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz joins me. Hey there.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Tell me more about who all would be charged here.

SCHMITZ: So this morning chief prosecutor Karim Khan of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, announced that he submitted an application with the ICC's panel of judges to issue arrest warrants for five men who make up the leadership of both Israel and Hamas. They include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. On the Hamas side, they include Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh and the leader of the Al Qassim brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas, Mohammed Deif. These arrest warrants, should they be issued by the panel of judges, would mark the first time that the ICC has targeted the leader of a close ally of the United States, and that, of course, would be Israel.

KELLY: Yeah. And tell me more about the charges that the prosecutors laid out.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. So let's start with Hamas. The group's three leaders are being charged with at least eight charges each, including taking hostages, rape and acts of sexual violence and torture, all stemming from the October 7 attack on Israel and the taking of around 240 hostages. Netanyahu and Gallant are being charged with murder and extermination as a war crime, willfully causing great suffering in Israel's military campaign on Gaza and using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. Today Prosecutor Khan said this about Netanyahu and Gallant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARIM KHAN: My office submits that these individuals, through a common plan, have systematically deprived the civilian population of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.

SCHMITZ: And, Mary Louise, Khan went on to say here that Netanyahu and Gallant did all of this as a state policy toward Gaza.

KELLY: All right. Well, I will insert from here in the U.S. that President Biden is calling the application for these arrest warrants outrageous. That was his word. His administration rejects what they see as the equivalence of Israel with Hamas. What has been the reaction from Israel and from Hamas themselves?

SCHMITZ: Well, Netanyahu has, in effect, already responded to this news weeks ago when he said arrest warrants for him and others in Israel's leadership would be, quote, "an outrage of historic proportions." Israeli President Isaac Herzog today called the ICC action outrageous, saying it shows the extent of which the state of the international justice system is in danger of collapsing. Hamas reacted by denouncing the ICC, saying it's equating victim with executioner in going after Hamas.

KELLY: OK. So what happens next here? What's the next move?

SCHMITZ: Well, today's action is an application by an ICC prosecutor for the court itself to issue arrest warrants. So no warrants have been issued yet. A panel of judges will now weigh the evidence the ICC prosecutor has provided to them, and they will decide whether these arrest warrants will be issued, and that process could take weeks.

KELLY: Although are there immediate implications for those on the receiving end of these warrants?

SCHMITZ: Well, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant - you know, for them, this means that if they have a warrant issued by the ICC for their arrest, they could technically be arrested if they were to travel to one of the dozens of countries that are signatories to the ICC, and that would include most of Europe, Canada, Australia, most of South America. It does not include Israel nor the U.S., both of which are not current signatories to the court.

KELLY: NPR's Rob Schmitz. Thank you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

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