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21 May, 2024 09:34

South Africa hails move to seek arrest of Israeli and Hamas officials

There must be accountability for anyone who commits “heinous crimes,” President Ramaphosa has said
South Africa hails move to seek arrest of Israeli and Hamas officials

South Africa welcomes the decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Hamas and Israel, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the presidency said on Monday.

On Monday, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan announced applications for the arrest of Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over allegations of genocide in Gaza.

He is looking to apprehend Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, the commander of its military wing, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, and the chief of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh.

There are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the five wanted persons are responsible for “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Gaza and Israel, the prosecutor said.

The move comes after more than eight months of large-scale airstrikes and ground offensives in Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry said have killed 35,456 people and wounded 79,476 others.

The war began when Hamas fighters launched surprise raids into Israeli territory on October 7, killing approximately 1,200 people and taking over 200 hostages.

South Africa, a vocal supporter of Palestinian independence, filed a case against West Jerusalem in December, asking the UN court to arrest the Israeli prime minister for waging a campaign of “genocide” against Gaza. Pretoria submitted an additional case against the Jewish state at the International Court of Justice, accusing it of committing systematic war crimes in the Palestinian enclave by blocking humanitarian aid from reaching civilians.

“South Africa is committed to the international rule of law, universal respect for human rights and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation and not war, and the self-determination of all peoples, including the Palestinians,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement on Monday in response to Prosecutor Khan’s decision.

“The law must be applied equally to all in order to uphold the international rule of law, ensure accountability for those that commit heinous crimes and protect the rights of victims,” the presidency stated.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and does not recognize the jurisdiction of the UN court, but the State of Palestine joined the organization in 2015. Once warrants against Netanyahu and Hamas leaders are issued, any of the court’s 124 member states will be obliged to arrest them if they set foot on their territory.

Israeli officials, including Bezalel Smotrich, the country’s far-right finance minister, have labeled Khan’s decision a “show of hypocrisy and hatred of Jews.” 

Netanyahu himself has called the move an “outrageous decision” and a “moral outrage of historic proportions” that “will cast an everlasting mark of shame” on the ICC.