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US lower chamber passes proposal sanctioning ICC after it sought Netanyahu arrest warrant

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Jerusalem, on Oct. 24, 2023.   -  
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Christophe Ena/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


The lower house of the United States Congress passed a bill Tuesday (Jun. 4) that would sanction the International Criminal Court for requesting arrest warrants for Israeli officials including Prime minister Benjamin Nethanyahu.

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

“The International Criminal Court (ICC) has overstepped its authority and set a dangerous precedent by seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel's Defense Minister Gallant, alongside Hamas terrorists,” Rep. Mike McCaul the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said.

The 247-155 vote amounts to Congress’ first legislative rebuke of the war crimes court since its 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 in Gaza intensified.

“ Per the proposed text, anyone who has offered financial, material or technological assistance to the court shall be, shall be sanctioned,” Rep. Gregory Meeks said.

The bill was backed by the Republicans who enjoy a slim majority in the House. The bill is expected to go to the Senate where it is unlikely that the Democratically-controlled chamber chooses to take it up.

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller reiterated the administration's opposition to the sanctions bill.

“We have made clear that while we oppose the decision taken by the prosecutor of the ICC, we don’t think it is appropriate, 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," Miller said.

READ ALSO: Gaza war: Israeli PM, Hamas leader could be handed arrest warrants by ICC

The ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said on May 20 that he believes Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Karim Khan made clear when at the time of the announcement that any effort to intimidate or retaliate against prosecutorial staff will be an obstruction of justice.

Article 70 of the Rome Statute forbids "impeding, intimidating or corruptly influencing" members of the court in an attempt to persuade them either to improperly fulfil their duties or not to fulfil them at all. The provision, among other things, also forbids retaliation for the fulfilment of duties as well as the bribing of court officials.

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