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U.S. lawmakers vote to sanction ICC after prosecutor seeks warrant for Israel’s Netanyahu

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would sanction the International Criminal Court for requesting arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

International Criminal Court's top prosecutor accused Israeli, Hamas leaders of war crimes

An exterior view of a building in the background with a large blue sign in front, on an angle, with the image of two olive branches surrounding a set of scales next to the words "International Criminal Court" written in white letters in English and French.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would sanction the International Criminal Court for requesting arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

The 247-155 vote amounts to Congress' first legislative rebuke of the war crimes court since its top prosecutor made a stunning decision last month to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel and Hamas.

The move was widely denounced in Washington, creating a rare moment of unity on Israel even as partisan divisions over the war with Hamas intensified.

While the House bill was expected to pass Tuesday, it managed to attract only modest Democratic support, despite an outpouring of outrage at the court's decision, dulling its chances in the Senate.

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee acknowledged the bill in question is unlikely to become law and left the door open to further negotiation with the White House.

They said it would be better for Congress to be united against the independent court based in The Hague.

"We're always strongest, particularly on this committee, when we speak with one voice as one nation, in this case to the ICC and to the judges," Republican Rep. Mike McCaul, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said during House debate.

"Failing to act here in the Congress would make us complicit with the ICC's illegitimate actions and we must not stay silent," McCaul said. "We must stand with our allies."

The House bill would apply sweeping economic sanctions and visa restrictions to individuals and judges associated with the ICC, including their family members.

Last month, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Netanyahu and his defence minister Gallant of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

The allegations include starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and extermination, among other accusations.

Khan is also seeking warrants for three Hamas leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — accusing them of crimes against humanity and war crimes beginning Oct. 7, the day Hamas led militant attacks on Israel.

Left: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Right: Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza.

Those allegations include taking hostages, torture, rape and other sexual violence, murder and extermination.

Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people during the attacks, according to Israel, and took some 250 hostages back to Gaza. There are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza. About 85 are believed to still be alive, alongside the remains of 43 others.

Israel's subsequent bombardments and assault on Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians in nearly eight months, according to Gaza health officials, and displaced at least 1.7 million of the 2.3 million people living in the territory — most of whom are facing catastrophic food insecurity.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, an independent group of experts, warned Tuesday that it's possible that famine is underway in northern Gaza, but that the war between Israel and Hamas and restrictions on humanitarian access have impeded the data collection to prove it.

The ICC prosecutor's request for warrants will be assessed by a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take on average two months to consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the ICC's move as disgraceful and antisemitic.

Hamas also criticized the ICC and denounced the move against its leaders. In a statement, following Khan's application for arrest warrants last month, the Palestinian militant group said the requests against Netanyahu and Gallant had come seven months too late.

WATCH | ICC top prosecutor seeks rrest warrants for Israeli, Hamas leaders:

Chief prosecutor of the ICC seeks arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders

15 days ago

Duration 22:41

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.

'A chilling effect on the ICC'

U.S. President Joe Biden and members of Congress also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel's right to defend itself.

But the his administration opposes the sanctions bill voted on in the House, calling it overreach.

"We have made clear that while we oppose the decision taken by the prosecutor of the ICC, we don't think it is appropriate," State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said, "especially while there are ongoing investigations inside Israel looking at somebody's very same questions, and we were willing to work with Congress on what a response might look like, but we don't support sanctions."

House Democrats labelled the approach as "overly broad," warning it could ensnare Americans and U.S. companies that do important work with the court.

"This bill would have a chilling effect on the ICC as an institution which could hamper the court's efforts to prosecute the dubious atrocities that have been perpetrated in many places around the world, from Ukraine to Uganda," said Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The U.S. does not recognize the ICC's jurisdiction, nor does Israel, meaning neither country would be required to transfer Netanyahu or Gallant to The Hague if the court issues warrants for their arrest.

The legislation reprimanding the ICC was just the latest show of support from House Republicans for Israel since the Oct. 7 attack that ignited the war.

Republicans have held several votes related to Israel in recent months, highlighting divisions among Democrats over support for the U.S. ally. Congressional leaders have invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress this summer, which is likely to further inflame tensions over Israel's handling of the war.

Many Democrats are expected to boycott the speech.

LISTEN | Former UN rapporteur breaks down what comes next after ICC arrest warrants request:

The Sunday Magazine16:51How ICJ, ICC moves are playing out in Israel amid war with Hamas

Israel is facing renewed pressure in the war with Hamas, between the International Court of Justice ordering the country to halt its Rafah offensive, and the International Criminal Court's top prosecutor seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. Israeli political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin joins David Common to talk about how these and other developments are adding to tension in Israeli society, political divisions within its government, and strain in the country's relationships with some allies.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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