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ICC seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Hamas leaders

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

News from the International Criminal Court, which is a global human rights court in The Hague in the Netherlands - it has announced it is seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Hamas and Israel, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They're all charged for war crimes or crimes against humanity. NPR's Berlin Correspondent Rob Schmitz is talk - is covering all this. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Can you just work us through what is happening here?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. This morning, chief prosecutor Karim Khan of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, announced that he has 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 Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. And on the Hamas side, they include Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and the leader of the al-Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri.

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.

INSKEEP: What are the charges?

SCHMITZ: Well, let's start with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Gallant. The ICC prosecutor's charging them with being criminally responsible for at least seven charges. These include starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, willfully causing great suffering, and murder and extermination as a war crime. The three Hamas leaders are being charged with at least eight charges each, including taking hostages, rape, and acts of sexual violence and torture.

INSKEEP: And I guess we'll just lay this out. The Hamas charges relate to the attack on Israel October 7, in which hostages were taken and...

SCHMITZ: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...These other acts took place. Of course, the Israeli charges relate to Israel's response in Gaza. I don't think the Israelis were surprised by this move, were they?

SCHMITZ: No, and we've known for weeks that the ICC was preparing for this moment. They've made no secret of the fact that they've been collecting witness statements and evidence both in Israel and in Gaza for these arrest warrants. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, in effect, already responded to this news weeks ago when he said arrest warrants for him and others in Israel leadership would be, quote, "an outrage of historic proportions," insisting that Israel has an independent legal system that, quote, "rigorously investigates all violations of the law."

INSKEEP: Well, I'm remembering, Rob, just last week on the program, you looked into those investigations. What did you find?

SCHMITZ: Right. Well, according to Israel group - Israeli groups that helped Palestinians file complaints with Israel's military, most of these complaints lead nowhere. From numbers provided by Israel's own military, we see this. Among the 1,260 complaints regarding Israeli soldiers harming Palestinians and their property between 2017 and 2021 - this predates the Gaza conflict - only 11 of those resulted in indictments. That's less than 1% of all complaints.

INSKEEP: OK, so now the ICC has issued arrest warrants, but, of course, that's very different from actually arresting someone. Where does this go?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Today's action's an application by an ICC prosecutor for the Court itself to issue arrest warrants. A panel of judges will now weigh in, and they'll decide whether these arrest warrants will be issued.

INSKEEP: And what are the implications for the people whose names will be on these warrants if they come out?

SCHMITZ: Well, for Netanyahu and for Defence Minister Gallant, this is a big deal. It means that if they have a warrant issued by the ICC for their arrests, they could technically be arrested if they were to travel to one of the dozens of countries that are signatories to the ICC.

INSKEEP: Including most of Europe - Rob, thanks so much.

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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.