The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defence minister.

On October 7, 2023, an incursion by militant group Hamas into Israel killed 1,139 people.

Of that number 695 were civilians, 38 were children and 71 were foreign nationals, with 373 members of the security services also killed.

Hamas also took around 250 hostages, both civilian and military, a number which included 30 children.

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In response Israel launched an assault on the blockaded Gaza strip, with over 35,000 killed in the months since, the majority of them women and children.

South Africa has brought a case before the International Court of Justice accusing the nation of genocide, with countries including the United States and the UK urging Mr Netanyahu not to proceed with the offensive on the southern city of Rafah.

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said that he believes Mr Netanyahu; his defence minister, Yoav Gallant; and three Hamas leaders: Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh; are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The Herald: Hamas supreme leader Ismail Haniyeh

In a statement he said he had "reasonable grounds to believe" the three Hamas leaders bear responsibility for extermination as a crime against humanity; murder ; taking hostages as a war crime; rape and other acts of sexual violence; torture; outrages upon personal dignity; cruel treatment; and other inhumane acts.

Mr Khan further said he had reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant bear responsibility for starvation of civilians as a method of warfare; wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; wilful killing; intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population; Extermination and/or murder; persecution; and other inhumane acts.

He wrote: "Israel, like all states, has a right to take action to defend its population. That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law. Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza – namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal.  

"Since last year, in Ramallah, in Cairo, in Israel and in Rafah, I have consistently emphasised that international humanitarian law demands that Israel take urgent action to immediately allow access to humanitarian aid in Gaza at scale. I specifically underlined that starvation as a method of war and the denial of humanitarian relief constitute Rome Statute offences. I could not have been clearer. 

"As I also repeatedly underlined in my public statements, those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action. That day has come.

"Today we once again underline that international law and the laws of armed conflict apply to all. No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader – no one – can act with impunity. Nothing can justify wilfully depriving human beings, including so many women and children, the basic necessities required for life. Nothing can justify the taking of hostages or the targeting of civilians.

"Now, more than ever, we must collectively demonstrate that international humanitarian law, the foundational baseline for human conduct during conflict, applies to all individuals and applies equally across the situations addressed by my office and the court.

"This is how we will prove, tangibly, that the lives of all human beings have equal value."

The ICC has previously issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and and Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova.

Even if the request for warrants is granted, it is unlikely to have any real world effect.

Russia does not recognise the ICC and does not extradite its citizens, making the warrant issued for the arrest of Mr Putin largely symbolic.

Israel similarly does not recognise the court, and while the state of Palestine does, many Hamas leaders are in countries which do not such as Lebanon, Qatar, and Egypt.