Gaza battles flare as Israel slams arrest warrant bid for ‘war crimes’

Israeli forces battled Hamas in Gaza on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily dismissed a bid for an international arrest warrant against him on charges of war crimes in the Palestinian territory.

Smoke billows after an Israeli strike on Jabalia as seen from Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on May 19, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant Hamas group. (AFP)

US President Joe Biden backed Netanyahu in condemning as “outrageous” the bid by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor who also sought warrants against leaders of Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Unlock exclusive access to the latest news on India’s general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now! Download Now!

Israel’s military reported ground combat and air strikes on 70 targets in Gaza in 24 hours, while its forces were also engaged in deadly clashes in the other major Palestinian territory, the occupied West Bank.

At least seven Palestinians were killed in the northern city of Jenin, the Ramallah-based health ministry said, as the army said it was “fighting armed men” in a “counterterrorism operation”.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa said a hospital surgeon, a school teacher and a student were among those killed in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups.

The Gaza war started after Hamas’s October 7 attack which sparked an Israeli retaliation that has brought a spiralling civilian death toll and levelled vast swathes of Gaza.

“We are running out of words to describe what is happening in Gaza,” Edem Wosornu of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told a Security Council meeting on Monday.

“We have described it as a catastrophe, a nightmare, as hell on earth. It is all of these, and worse,” she said of conditions in the besieged territory of 2.4 million people.

Wosornu said “1.1 million people face catastrophic levels of hunger and Gaza remains on the brink of famine” while three quarters of its people had been forcibly displaced, some up to five times.

Israel backtracks on broadcast ban

Israel on Tuesday shut down the Associated Press’s live video feed from war-torn Gaza and confiscated its equipment, before reversing the move hours later after the White House intervened.

The AP said Israel had accused the US news agency of violating its ban on Al Jazeera, which was ordered shut two weeks ago based on a new Israeli law governing foreign broadcasters.

Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi later announced he had issued an order to cancel the ban and return the equipment.

Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Fighting has been raging around the far southern city of Rafah, the last area to face a ground invasion — but fierce combat has also been reported again in the northern Jabalia area where Hamas forces have regrouped.

Israel said Tuesday its forces had “eliminated several militants” in both areas.

The World Health Organization said northern Gaza’s last two functioning hospitals, Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan, were besieged by Israeli forces, with a total of over 200 patients trapped inside both.

Israel launched its ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which feared for the more than one million civilians trapped there.

Israel has launched mass evacuations from Rafah where it has vowed to destroy Hamas and its tunnel system and rescue remaining hostages.

The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled Rafah, and Wosornu confirmed that “the once over-crowded camps and emergency shelters in Rafah have now largely emptied”.

She said most of the displaced had fled to Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah in camps where “they lack adequate latrines, water points, drainage and shelter”.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Tuesday said aid distribution had been suspended in Rafah “due to lack of supplies and insecurity”.

‘No impunity’

The bloody carnage of the Gaza war and the October 7 attack led the ICC’s prosecutor Karim Khan to announce on Monday that he had applied for the arrest warrants against leaders on both sides.

“International law and the laws of armed conflict apply to all,” Khan said. “No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader — no one — can act with impunity.”

The request targeted Israel’s Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as well as Hamas’s Qatar-based Ismail Haniyeh and Gaza-based Mohammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar.

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

Hamas also said on Monday it “strongly condemns” the move.

Gallant on Tuesday said Khan’s “parallel… between the Hamas terrorist organisation and the State of Israel is despicable”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meanwhile said a Gaza ceasefire deal was still possible but that the ICC bid was impeding efforts.

US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators have for months sought to broker a ceasefire and hostage release deal to no avail.

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.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button