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Netanyahu 'asked' families of Hamas captives to lobby ICC on his behalf

Israeli prime minister told representatives of those held in Gaza to use relationship with International Criminal Court to prevent arrest warrants, according to News 12
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a press conference in October 2023 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked the families of captives held by Hamas in Gaza to try to persuade the International Criminal Court (ICC) not to issue arrest warrants against him and other senior Israeli officials and military commanders, according to a report in News 12. 

Netanyahu reportedly contacted the headquarters of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a body established by the families of those abducted and taken to Gaza during the Hamas-led 7 October attacks, and asked them to use their relationship with the ICC to lobby on behalf of him and other Israeli figures at risk of being targeted over Israel's war in Gaza.

In February, about 100 families of the captives travelled to the Hague, the Dutch city where the ICC is based, to file a lawsuit against senior Hamas officials.

Since then, News 12 reported, "friendly" relations have been established between some of the families and the court's prosecutor, British lawyer Karim Khan.

After learning about this connection, Netanyahu asked the headquarters of the missing families forum to convince Khan to drop any plans to issue arrest warrants against Israeli officials. 

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While the Israeli broadcaster described this as a "very unusual appeal", the Israeli prime minister is known to be very worried about the prospect of ICC warrants being issued and has been pursuing every possible diplomatic avenue to avert it. The Israeli broadcaster said that sources familiar with the matter had told them that Khan was "due" to issue the arrest warrants, "possibly as early as this week".

Other reports in the Israeli media have said that lawyers acting on behalf of the ICC are worried the warrants may already have been issued secretly, and that Israeli officials may only find out about them after arriving in European countries.

A source who spoke to the Israeli outlet Ynet said that Netanyahu was using "threatening" tactics against Khan, and compared the prime minister's behaviour to that of an "elephant in a china shop". The Israeli leader is said to be "frightened and unusually stressed" by the possibility of an imminent arrest warrant, according to Maariv.

Israeli officials are seeking assurances from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the White House would intervene to stop any ICC action from taking place. Washington has already said that the ICC has no authority to pursue Israeli leaders. 

In a video attached to a tweet captioned, "You have to hear this to believe this", Netanyahu said issuing arrest warrants against Israeli leaders as "war criminals" would be "an outrage of historic proportions". 

Netanyahu said that while bodies like the ICC "arose in the wake of the Holocaust committed against the Jewish people," the international court was now "trying to put Israel in the dock".

"It's trying to put us in the dock as we defend ourselves against genocidal terrorists and regimes - Iran, of course - that openly works to destroy the one and only Jewish state," the Israeli prime minister said of the ICC.

"Branding Israel's leaders and soldiers as war criminals will pour jet fuel on the fires of antisemitism, those fires that are already raging on the campuses of America and across capitals around the world," he added, before branding the Israeli army "one of the most moral militaries in the world".

More than 34,568 people have been killed by the Israeli military in Gaza over the last six months, with at least 77,765 wounded and an estimated 10,000 missing and presumed dead, according to the Palestinian health ministry and civil defence in Gaza.

Responding to the News 12 channel, the ICC said: “The chief prosecutor's office is conducting an ongoing and independent investigation regarding the situation in Palestine. Beyond that, the prosecutor's office does not provide commentary regarding ongoing investigations, and his office does not respond to speculations and media reports.”

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