Hamas and Israeli leaders may face international arrest warrants. Here’s what that means

07:26PM Mon 20 May, 2024

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking arrest warrants for top Hamas and Israeli figures on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

If approved by a panel of judges, the arrest warrants would be issued for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Warrants are also being sought for three top Hamas officials: Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, political chief Ismail Haniyah, and Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, the leader of Hamas’ armed wing, who is better known as Mohammed Deif.

Here’s what we know about the ICC cases and what they mean for Israel and Hamas.

How would an arrest warrant affect Netanyahu or Hamas leaders?
The decision to seek arrest warrants doesn’t immediately mean the individual is guilty, but is the first stage in a process that could lead to a lengthy trial.

If the court finds sufficient evidence of crimes, it can summon the suspect to appear voluntarily. The court can also issue an arrest warrant, relying on member countries to make the arrest and transfer the suspect to the ICC.

If the suspect appears before the court, a pre-trial takes place in which the court decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. Then there is a trial before three ICC judges, in which the prosecution must prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the individual is guilty of the crimes.

Once a verdict passes, the charged individual may be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. Under exceptional circumstances, a life sentence can also be given, the court says.

The ICC has so far issued arrest warrants against 42 people, 21 of whom have been detained with the help of member states.

“The immediate problem for Israeli officials under any ICC arrest warrant would be that the court’s 124 member states would be under a legal obligation to arrest such officials if they traveled to any of those 124 countries,” Chile Eboe-Osuji, a former ICC president, wrote this month in Foreign Policy magazine.

“That obligation should not be underestimated,” he said, adding that “just last year, Putin canceled his plans to attend the BRICS summit in South Africa, in the apparent light of Pretoria’s obligation to arrest him.”