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Israel: Israeli officials concerned about possible ICC arrest warrants as pressure mounts over war in Gaza

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Israeli officials appeared increasingly concerned that the International Criminal Court may issue arrest warrants against the country’s leaders, as international pressure mounts over the war in Gaza. Airstrikes overnight into Monday killed 22 people in a southern city, according to hospital records.
The deaths in Rafah included six women and five children, one of whom was just 5 days old, according to the records and an Associated Press reporter. Israel is planning an invasion of the city – though its closest ally, the United States, and others have repeatedly warned against it, saying an offensive would spell catastrophe for the more than a million Palestinians sheltering there.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials have referred in recent days to an ICC probe launched three years ago into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants going back to the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The probe is also looking at Israel’s construction of settlements in occupied territory the Palestinians want for a future state.

There was no comment from the court on Monday, and it has given no indication warrants in the case are imminent.

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry said late Sunday that it had informed Israeli missions of “rumors” that warrants might be issued against senior political and military officials. Foreign Minister Israel Katz said any such warrants would “provide a morale boost” to Hamas and other militant groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel “will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right of self-defense.” “The threat to seize the soldiers and officials of the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish state is outrageous. We will not bow to it,” he posted on the social media platform X. It was not clear what sparked the Israeli concerns. A series of Israeli announcements in recent days about allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza appears to be aimed in part at heading off possible ICC action.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said during a visit to the region in December that the investigation is “moving forward at pace, with rigor, with determination and with an insistence that we act not on emotion but on solid evidence.”

Neither Israel nor the United States accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, but any warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest in other countries. They would also serve as a major rebuke of Israel’s actions at a time when pro-Palestinian protests have spread across U.S. college campuses.

The International Court of Justice, a separate body, is investigating whether Israel has committed acts of genocide in the ongoing war in Gaza, with any ruling expected to take years. Israel has rejected allegations of wrongdoing and accused both international courts of bias.

Israel has instead accused Hamas of genocide over its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. Militants stormed through army bases and farming communities across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostages.

In response, Israel launched a massive air, sea and ground offensive that has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its tally.

Israel blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, residential areas. The military says it has killed over 12,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The war has driven around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes, caused vast destruction in several towns and cities, and pushed northern Gaza to the brink of famine.

Israel has vowed to expand its ground offensive to Rafah, where over 1 million Palestinians have sought shelter from fighting elsewhere. Israel says Rafah is the last Hamas stronghold, with thousands of fighters embedded there.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which has provided crucial military and political support for the offensive, has urged Israel not to invade Rafah over fears it could cause a humanitarian catastrophe – concerns he reiterated in a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit Israel on his latest trip to the region that began in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

The U.S., Egypt and Qatar are meanwhile pushing Israel and Hamas to accept an agreement they drafted that would free some of the hostages and bring about at least a temporary cease-fire. Hamas is still believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of some 30 others after most of the rest were freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners last year.

Hamas has said it will not release the remaining hostages without an agreement to end the war. Netanyahu has rejected that demand, saying Israel will continue its offensive until Hamas is destroyed and all the hostages are returned.

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