Israel, Hamas reject bid before ICC to arrest leaders for war crimes

Israel on Monday slammed as a “historical disgrace” an application by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Israel, Hamas reject bid before ICC to arrest leaders for war crimes

  • Israel slams as a ‘historical disgrace’ the demand to arrest their leaders for war crimes
  • US President Joe Biden denounces the ICC bid as ‘outrageous’

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Israel and Hamas, engaged in heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip, both angrily rejected on Monday moves to arrest their leaders for war crimes made before an international court.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan said he had applied for arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders over the conflict.

Israel slammed as a “historical disgrace” the demand targeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, while the Palestinian militant group Hamas said it “strongly condemns” the move.

Israel’s top ally the United States joined the condemnation, while France said it supported the court’s independence and its “fight against impunity.”

Netanyahu said he rejected “with disgust The Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas.”

Khan said in a statement that he was seeking warrants against the Israeli leaders for crimes including “wilful killing,” “extermination and/or murder,” and “starvation.”

He said Israel had committed “crimes against humanity” during the war, started by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, as part “of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population.”

Khan also said the leaders of Hamas, including Qatar-based Ismail Haniyeh and Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, “bear criminal responsibility” for actions committed during the October 7 attack.

These included “taking hostages,” “rape and other acts of sexual violence,” and “torture,” he said.

“International law and the laws of armed conflict apply to all,” Khan said. “No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader — no one — can act with impunity.”

The warrants, if granted by the ICC judges, would mean that any of the 124 ICC member states would technically be obliged to arrest Netanyahu and the others if they traveled there, a point noted by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

However, the court has no mechanism to enforce its warrants.

US President Joe Biden denounced the ICC bid as “outrageous” and said “there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.”

Germany agreed, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying the warrants gave “a false impression of equivalence.”

Biden also rejected accusations in a separate tribunal, the UN International Court of Justice, where South Africa has alleged that Israel’s war in Gaza is genocidal.

“What’s happening is not genocide,” Biden told a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House on Monday.

South Africa welcomed the move at the ICC.

The war ground on unabated, with Israeli forces battling Hamas in Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, as well as in other flashpoints in central and northern areas.

Israel defied international opposition almost two weeks ago when it sent troops into Rafah, which is crowded with civilians and which the military has described as the last Hamas stronghold.

Netanyahu has vowed to keep fighting Hamas in Gaza until the Iran-backed Islamist group is defeated and all remaining hostages are released.

The United Nations said more than 812,000 Palestinians had fled Rafah, near the Egyptian border.

“The question that haunts us is: where will we go?” said Sarhan Abu Al-Saeed, 46, a desperate Palestinian resident. “Certain death is chasing us from all directions.”

Witnesses said that Israeli naval forces had also struck Rafah, and medics reported an air strike on a residential building in the city’s west.

The military said Israeli troops were “conducting targeted raids on terrorist infrastructure” in eastern Rafah, where they had found “dozens of tunnel shafts” and “eliminated over 130 terrorists.”

The war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also took about 250 hostages during the attack, of whom 124 remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,562 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

The Israeli military said on Monday the bodies of four hostages retrieved from Gaza last week had been found in tunnels under Jabalia in the north.

Israeli forces have been fighting in northern and central areas previously declared largely cleared of militants, with the military saying its troops had killed 200 militants in Jabalia.

Israel has imposed a siege on the long-blockaded Gaza Strip, depriving its 2.4 million people of normal access to clean water, food, medicines and fuel.

The suffering has been eased only by sporadic aid shipments by land, air and sea, but truck arrivals have slowed to a trickle amid the Rafah operation.

The European Union warned that 31 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are no longer functioning and that the rest are “on the verge of collapse, with more than 9,000 severely injured people at risk of dying.”

Air strikes continued across Gaza, including on Gaza City in the north, the military said.

Gaza’s civil defense said the bodies of eight dead, along with several wounded, were retrieved after an air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Netanyahu on Sunday and told him Israel must link the military operation against Hamas with a “political strategy” for Gaza’s future.

Washington has pushed for a post-war plan for Gaza involving Palestinians and supported by regional powers, as well as for a broader diplomatic deal under which Israel and Saudi Arabia would normalize relations.


US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

Updated 14 June 2024
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US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Thursday that Washington and its allies were prepared to continue to increase pressure on Iran if Tehran does not cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, a UN nuclear watchdog report said earlier in the day. The State Department said the report showed that Iran aimed to continue expanding its nuclear program “in ways that have no credible peaceful purpose.”


Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

Updated 14 June 2024
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Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

DUBAI: Two cruise missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck a bulk cargo carrier in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, severely injuring a sailor who was evacuated by American forces, the US military said.

The Houthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Although this has caused major disruption to international shipping, casualties have been rare.

The M/V Verbena — a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated ship — “reported damage and subsequent fires on board. The crew continues to fight the fire. One civilian mariner was severely injured during the attack,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

“Aircraft from USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) medically evacuated the injured mariner to a partner force ship nearby for medical attention,” CENTCOM said.

“This continued reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

The Houthis on Thursday said they had carried out attacks on three ships within the past 24 hours, including on the Verbena, “in retaliation to the crimes committed against our people in the Gaza Strip, and in response to the American-British aggression against our country.”

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) meanwhile reported an explosion close to a merchant vessel in the Red Sea about 80 nautical miles northwest of Yemen’s Hodeida port, with no damage or casualties.

The Houthis have launched scores of drone and missile attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November.

The first reported fatalities from the attacks on ships occurred in the Gulf of Aden in March.

On Wednesday, the Houthis struck the Tutor, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier, southwest of Hodeida. They claimed to have used seaborne and aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

CENTCOM later said the Tutor had been struck by a Houthi “unmanned surface vessel” that “caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.”


UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
Updated 13 June 2024
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UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

  • Council adopted British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir — a city of 1.8 million people in Sudan’s North Dafur region — by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and an immediate end to fighting in the area.
The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir, the last big city in the vast, western Darfur region not under RSF control.
War erupted in Sudan in April last year between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Top UN officials have warned that the worsening violence around Al-Fashir threatens to “unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur.”


Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

  • The West Bank has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza
  • Troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said

QABATIYA, West Bank: Israeli forces raided a town in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing three Palestinians and detaining several others in what the army described as an operation to pre-empt militant attacks.
The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the raid in Qabatiya, troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said. The two Palestinians were killed and witnesses saw the body of one them being lifted out by an armored bulldozer.
A third Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops elsewhere in the town, medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of the dead men by any armed Palestinian faction. The army described the two killed in the building as “senior terrorists” without elaborating, and added that weapons were seized in the raid.
Several Palestinians were detained by troops, who also “exposed explosives planted into roads which were intended to be used to attack the forces,” the army statement said.
A soldier was wounded during exchanges of fire, it added.


Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

  • Tehran is installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow
  • A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium

VIENNA: Iran is further expanding its nuclear capacities, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday, one week after the agency’s board of governors passed a resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA.
The International Atomic Energy Agency informed its members that Tehran told it that it was installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, according to a statement sent to AFP.
A diplomatic source deemed this development as “moderate.”
A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium.
The motion brought by Britain, France and Germany — but opposed by China and Russia — at the IAEA’s 35-nation board last week was the first of its kind since November 2022.
The resolution — which Tehran slammed as “hasty and unwise” — came amid an impasse over Iran’s escalating nuclear activities and as Western powers fear Tehran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.
Although symbolic in nature at this stage, the censure motion aims to raise diplomatic pressure on Iran, with the option to potentially refer the issue to the UN Security Council.
In the past, similar resolutions have prompted Tehran to retaliate by removing surveillance cameras and other equipment from its nuclear facilities and ratcheting up its uranium enrichment activities.
According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent — just short of weapons-grade — while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.
The IAEA has said that Tehran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
The Islamic republic has gradually broken away from its commitments under the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015.
The landmark deal provided Iran with relief from Western sanctions in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but it fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018.
Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed.