Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are the accused Israeli officials AFP

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, said on Monday that he will seek arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, as he believes they are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of the war between the two factions.

The two Israelis targeted are prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh are the ones from Hamas.

Khan now has to take the warrants to a pre-trial panel comprised of three judges, who will evaluate the request and determine whether to move forward. They usually take about two months to make a decision.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and not bound by its Rome Statute, meaning officials are not at immediate risk of prosecution. However, should an arrest warrant indeed be issued, it could be enforced if they traveled to a country that is a state member, potentially isolating the Israeli leaders in the international scene.

Netanyahu has been extremely critical of the ICC, but reportedly lobbied the U.S. to prevent such a decision from being made. In fact, about a dozen Republican senators in late April threatened to impose sanctions of the body if it moves forward with arrest warrants against Israeli officials.

"Target Israel and we will target you," the senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton said. They warned they will "sanction your employees and associates, and bar you and your families from the United States."

As for Hamas' leaders, Sinwar and Deif are believed to be still hiding in Gaza's tunnels while Israel continues trying to hunt them down. Haniyeh, leader of the group's political wing, lives in Qatar and frequently travels across the region.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet who has not been targeted by the ICC, was extremely critical of the decision. He said the country fights with "one of the strictest" moral codes and can investigate itself.

"The State of Israel is waging one of the just wars fought in modern history following a reprehensible massacre perpetrated by terrorist Hamas on the 7th of October," he said. "The prosecutor's position to apply for arrest warrants is in itself a crime of historic proportion to be remembered for generations.

Khan, in turn, said that "the effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known."

"They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women," he said. Agencies have criticized Israel for the low amounts of humanitarian aid entering Gaza since the Israeli army entered the territory following the October 7 attacks where Hamas members killed some 1,200 people (mostly civilians) and took 250 hostages.

Israel has denied this, saying the UN is failing to distribute the aid and that most of it is taken by Hamas when it enters the Gaza Strip.

Regarding Hamas' actions, Khan said that he saw in December "the devastating scenes of these attacks and the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes charged in the applications filed today."

"Speaking with survivors, I heard how the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness. These acts demand accountability."

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