Gazans, Hamas see false equivalence in ICC charges

Smoke rises from an explosion in Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO (Reuters) - Gaza Strip residents criticised on Monday the International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision to seek the arrest of Hamas leaders, saying it falsely equated them with the Israeli leaders waging war in the Palestinian enclave since October.

Prosecutor Karim Kahn has applied for arrest warrants for Hamas' leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, the commander of the group's military wing Mohammed Deif, and its Political Bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, as well as for Israel's prime minister and defence minister.

"The world is unjust, they see with one eye. How come they equate between us and the occupation?" said Um Samed, a mother of six displaced by the war between different neighbourhoods of Gaza City.

"Did Hamas use planes to bomb Tel Aviv? Did they kill 35,000 people and still thousands more are missing? This is insane," she told Reuters on a messaging app.

Another resident of Gaza City, 25-year-old Mohammad Farouq, said it was "a joke" that the ICC had requested a warrant against Deif alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

"Let them arrest Netanyahu and Gallant, in their first of many trips abroad. And if they can come into Gaza to arrest Deif, who never leaves and is busy fighting the occupation, let them do it," he said.

The war in Gaza was triggered by a Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7 in which some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to the enclave's health ministry, in the conflict that has laid waste to the crowded coastal enclave and displaced most of its population of 2.3 million.

ICC Prosecutor Kahn said he had grounds to believe that the five men bore "criminal responsibility" for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.


When asked about the Oct. 7 attack, Gazans say the causes of the current conflict go back much further, to the wars around Israel's foundation, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in 1948.

The ICC prosecutor's move equated "the victim and the slaughterer", said Sameeh, a 45-year-old accountant from Gaza City displaced with his family to Khan Younis. "The injustice and massacres against the Palestinians didn't start on Oct. 7, they started in 1948, and Oct. 7 was a response to all the crimes conducted by the occupation," he said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that the ICC decision "represents an encouragement to the occupation to pursue the war of extermination".

In a statement, the Palestinian militant group denounced the move against its leaders and said the requests against Netanyahu and Gallant had come seven months too late.

In Israel, politicians and members of the public reacted with an equal measure of outrage at Khan's move, with some Israelis seeing a warrant issued against Netanyahu as an attack on the entire country.

On the Palestinian side, even those who might be critical of Hamas objected to the idea of putting them on a par with Israel.

Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is a political rival to Hamas, said Israeli officials were pursuing crimes of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

"The Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves," he told Reuters from Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Another Gaza resident, Rabah Abuelias, 65, said people in the territory had paid a heavy price for Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, but Israel was to blame for what followed and the ICC should have also targeted Israel's Western backers.

"We criticize Hamas for maybe not reaching a ceasefire so far or for not being able to support the people with enough food and shelter, but we will never blame them for resisting the occupation," he said.

(Reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)