Joe Biden has attacked as “outrageous” an application by the international criminal court for warrants seeking the arrest of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, along with senior members of Hamas, for actions carried out in Gaza.

By Robert Tait

The president of the US, Joe Biden, sided unambiguously with Israel after the ICC’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced he was pursuing arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister. Khan is also pursuing the arrests of three leading Hamas figures, Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri – better known as Mohammed Deif – and Ismail Haniyeh over Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October last year.

The prosecutor’s announcement prompted Biden’s most outspoken remarks in Israel’s support in months, with the president accusing the ICC of drawing a false moral equivalence between the country and Hamas, a militant Islamist group that has run Gaza since 2006.

“The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous,” Biden said in the statement. “And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

He doubled down on these views in a speech Monday evening during the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration, an annual event held at the White House. “I will always ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defend itself against Hamas and all its enemies,” Biden said. “We want Hamas to be defeated.”

Calling the toll taken on civilians in Gaza “heartbreaking”, he added that his administration is also working to bring the region together and a two-state solution, but emphasised his position on the ICC’s warrants.

“Let me be clear,” he said, “we reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders. Whatever these warrants may imply, there’s no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

“What’s happening is not genocide.”

Biden’s comments were echoed by Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, who said the US “fundamentally rejects” the decision to seek the arrests of Israeli officials and warned that it could jeopardise efforts to reach a ceasefire.

He also accused the ICC of overstepping its authority.

“The United States has been clear since well before the current conflict that ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter,” Blinken said. “The ICC was established by its state parties as a court of limited jurisdiction. Those limits are rooted in principles of complementarity, which do not appear to have been applied here amid the prosecutor’s rush to seek these arrest warrants rather than allowing the Israeli legal system a full and timely opportunity to proceed.”

Germany has also voiced its support for Israel describing the decision as “false equivalence”. In a statement, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said: “The simultaneous application for arrest warrants against the Hamas leaders on the one hand and the two Israeli officials on the other has given the false impression of equivalence.”

South Africa hailed the decision, with a statement from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office saying it was welcome. “The law must be applied equally to all in order to uphold the international rule of law, ensure accountability for those that commit heinous crimes and protect the rights of victims,” it said.

Meanwhile Hamas denounced the ICC prosecutors actions against it, saying the request to arrest its leaders “equates the victim with the executioner”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), who are normally political rivals to Hamas, also criticised the move. “The Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, told Reuters from Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The ICC’s move follows a separate case currently being heard by a different court, the international court of justice, of accusations – brought by South Africa – that Israel is committing genocide in its response to last October’s attack. Israel strenuously denies the allegation.

The Biden administration’s chorus of support for Israel follows weeks of tensions between the two allies over Israeli plans for an offensive against the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are believed to be seeking shelter.

Biden said this month that he would withhold US weapons from Israel if Netanyahu ordered a major invasion of the city.

More than 35,000 Palestinians – the majority of them said to be women and children – have been killed by Israel since it launched its military offensive in response to last October’s Hamas attack, when 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed and another 250 were taken hostage. –

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