Israeli and Hamas leaders join list of people accused by leading war crimes court

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JERUSALEM (AP) — By accusing the heads of Israel and Hamas of war crimes, the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor placed them among world leaders infamous for heinous acts against humanity.

The chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced arrest warrants Monday against two Israeli leaders — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and three Hamas leaders.

The prosecutor focused on actions taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 when militants stormed southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostages, and on Israel's military response in Gaza, which has killed roughly 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Netanyahu condemned the decision Monday, calling it “a complete distortion of reality.”

“I reject with disgust the Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

In a statement, Hamas accused the prosecutor of trying to “equate the victim with the executioner.” It said it has the right to resist Israeli occupation, including “armed resistance.”

The ICC is the permanent court of last resort, established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. Several countries don't accept the court's jurisdiction, including Israel, the United States, China and Russia.

Here's a closer look at the accusations against Israeli and Hamas leaders, and some of the leaders around the world who have also been served arrest warrants from the ICC:

THE HAMAS LEADERS

The Hamas officials — Ismail Haniyeh, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif — are accused of planning and instigating eight war crimes and crimes against humanity, among them extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape and torture.

“The crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas,” the decision released today by the ICC stated.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that hostages taken from Israel have been kept in inhumane conditions, and that some have been subject to sexual violence, including rape, while being held in captivity.”

Hamas rejected the accusations.

Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza. Haniyeh, the supreme leader of Hamas, is based in Qatar.

THE ISRAELI LEADERS

Netanyahu and Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant are accused of seven war crimes and crimes against humanity, including extermination and murder. They are also accused of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, intentionally directing acts against a civilian population, persecution, and willfully causing great suffering.

The U.N. says a “full-blown famine” is occurring in northern Gaza, as the territory faces a near-complete cutoff from aid supplies. Israel has been accused of heavily restricting the flow of aid into the territory, an allegation it denies.

Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. Israel is not a member of the court, but the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

OTHER ARREST WARRANTS

The ICC has issued arrest warrants for other leaders over the past roughly two decades since the court was established.

In March of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin was accused of the abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia. He was charged along with Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights.

The chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals. Russia responded by issuing its own arrest warrants for Khan, the court’s prosecutor, and other ICC judges.

One of Africa's most notorious warlords, Joseph Kony, was issued an arrest warrant from the ICC in 2005. As the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, he faces 12 counts of crimes against humanity including murder, sexual enslavement and rape, and 21 counts of war crimes.

Despite an internationally-backed manhunt and a $5 million reward, Kony has evaded capture and remains at large. The ICC is expected to begin the court’s first in absentia hearing in October.

Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC over accusations related to the conflict in Darfur. Al-Bashir was served with arrest warrants in 2009 and 2010 accusing him of five counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide.

He remains at large, after spending some time in a prison in Khartoum from 2019 to 2023. Earlier this year, the ICC said there had been “progress” in the case against al-Bashir.

Longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was charged with two counts of crimes against humanity for his brutal crackdown during the Arab Spring in 2011. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gadhafi in June 2011, but closed the case in November 2011, after his death.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the dictator’s son, was charged along with two others in 2011 and remains at large.