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LONDON: International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan justified his decision to request arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and defence minister in an interview with a British newspaper published on Sunday.

Khan said on Monday that he was seeking warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, as well as top Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohamed Deif, on suspicions of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

His announcement sparked the ire of Israel and its allies the United States and United Kingdom, all of which criticised Khan for putting together Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7, and Israel, which has carried out a relentless military campaign in Gaza since then.

Despite UN court orders to halt offensive, Israel’s aggression continues in Rafah

“It’s a precarious moment internationally and if we don’t hold on to the law, we have nothing to cling onto,” Khan, who rarely speaks publicly, told the Sunday Times newspaper.

He added that countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia were watching closely as to whether global institutions would seek to uphold international law.

“Are powerful states sincere when they say there’s a body of law or is this rules-based system all a nonsense, simply a tool of NATO and a post-colonial world, with no real intention of applying law equally?” Khan asked.

Israel strikes Rafah after UN court orders halt to offensive

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 travelled there.

However the court has no mechanism to enforce its orders.

Netanyahu rejected “with disgust … the comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas”, and US President Joe Biden also stressed that “there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas”.

“I am not saying that Israel with its democracy and its supreme court is akin to Hamas, of course not,” Khan added in his interview.

“I couldn’t be clearer, Israel has every right to protect its population and to get the hostages back. But nobody has a licence to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity. The means define us.”

He cited a number of allegations against Israel, including “the fact that water was turned off… that people queuing for food [were] targeted, that people from aid agencies have been killed”.

“This is not how war is supposed to be waged,” said Khan.

“If this is what compliance with international humanitarian law looks like, then the Geneva Conventions serve no purpose.”

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

Palestinian group also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

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