Biden says Israel's action in Gaza 'not genocide' after arrest warrant request for Netanyahu

21 May 2024, 02:22 | Updated: 21 May 2024, 08:06

Joe Biden has said 'what is happening in Gaza is not genocide' following an arrest warrant request by the International Criminal Court prosecutor for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US president branded the warrant request as "outrageous," adding "whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence - none - between Israel and Hamas."

"What's happening in Gaza is not genocide. We reject that," Mr Biden said at a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House.

He said American support for the safety and security of Israelis is "ironclad".

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan KC has applied for arrest warrants to be issued for Israel's prime minister and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar over alleged war crimes.

He is also seeking arrest warrants for Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant - and other top Hamas leaders Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al Masri, more commonly known as Deif (commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas, known as the al Qassam Brigades), and Ismail Haniyeh (head of Hamas's political bureau).

Mr Netanyahu said: "As prime minister of Israel, I reject with disgust the Hague prosecutor's comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas.

"With what audacity do you compare Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, decapitated, raped and kidnapped our brothers and sisters and the IDF soldiers fighting a just war.

"No pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who seek to destroy us."

In a statement, Mr Khan outlined the reasons his office was applying for the arrest warrants.

"Now, more than ever, we must collectively demonstrate that international humanitarian law, the foundational baseline for human conduct during conflict, applies to all individuals and applies equally across the situations addressed by my office and the court," he said.

"This is how we will prove, tangibly, that the lives of all human beings have equal value."

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On the Hamas leaders, he said he has reasonable grounds to believe they "bear criminal responsibility" for "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

He outlined a list of alleged crimes, including murder, taking hostages and rape and other acts of sexual violence.

"We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas and other armed groups pursuant to organisational policies. Some of these crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day," he said.

On Mr Netanyahu and his defence minister Mr Gallant, Mr Khan said he has reasonable grounds to believe they too "bear criminal responsibility" for "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

He outlined a list of alleged crimes, including "starvation of civilians" and "intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population".

"We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to state policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day," he said.

Benny Gantz, a former military chief and member of Israel's war cabinet, harshly criticised Mr Khan's announcement, saying Israel fights with "one of the strictest" moral codes and has a robust judiciary capable of investigating itself.

South Africa, which has been leading a genocide case against Israel, welcomed the news Mr Khan was seeking the arrest of Israeli and Hamas leaders.

"The law must be applied equally to all in order to uphold the international rule of law," the office of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said.