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South Africa welcomes ICC arrest warrant request for Netanyahu and Hamas leaders

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South Africa’s presidency has welcomed the recent announcement by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, stating he has requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three senior Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

South Africa has been a vocal advocate for Palestinian rights and has recently filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing it of genocide—a charge that Israel denies. The move by the ICC aligns with South Africa’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, underscoring its commitment to international justice.

Both Israeli and Hamas representatives have vehemently dismissed the allegations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded angrily, condemning the ICC prosecutor’s decision as a “complete distortion of reality.” He stated:

“As Prime Minister of Israel, I reject with disgust the Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas. This is a complete distortion of reality.”

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The United States also expressed its disapproval. President Joe Biden called the ICC’s decision “outrageous,” emphasizing that there is “no equivalence” between Israel and Hamas. The U.S. State Department echoed this sentiment, asserting that the ICC lacks jurisdiction in this case since Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court.

Israel, like the US, Russia and a dozen countries is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.

Last March, the ICC however issued an arrest awarrant agaist Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, for being allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of children and that of unlawful transfer of these children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

At the time, he US welcomed the warrant. “[Putin] gas clearly committed war crimes,” Biden told reporters.

“I think the [warrant] is justified,” Biden added.

“But the question is – it’s not recognized internationally by us either. But I think it makes a very strong point.”

On Monday (May. 20), US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller warned:

“This decision does nothing to help and could jeopardize ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would get hostages out of Gaza and surge humanitarian assistance in.”

In Israel, the news elicited mixed reactions. In Tel Aviv, a city that has witnessed extensive protests demanding more action from the Netanyahu administration to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, some residents expressed disbelief and frustration at the perceived equivalence drawn between Israel and Hamas. Inbar Goldstein, a Tel Aviv resident, voiced her confusion and dismay:

“I don’t understand in what world we are living in where there is symmetry between leaders of a terror organization who committed mass slaughter to heads of state who were democratically elected.”

In Gaza, the response was more subdued. Sami Abu Zeid, a resident displaced from Gaza City, expressed a desire for decisive international resolutions that address the core issues. He highlighted the plight of ordinary Palestinians who suffer despite not being affiliated with either Hamas or Islamic Jihad:

“We want international resolutions that are decisive. Decisive so that they solve problems. We are the victims although we have nothing to do with Israel or Hamas. We are not Hamas or Islamic Jihad.”

The latest war in the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on October 7th last year.

At the time, waves of Palestinian militants groups which included Hamas commandos, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees, and other Palestinian paramilitary organizations stormed Israel’s southern border and killed around 1,200 people kidnapping others.

ICC judges will now review the evidence presented by Prosecutor Karim Khan to determine whether arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant, and the Hamas leaders can be issued.

By Agencies

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