Biden administration signals it will support push to sanction International Criminal Court

US secretary of state Antony Blinken attacks ‘profoundly wrong-headed decision’ to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over Gaza war

Joe Biden’s administration will work with Congress on possible sanctions against the International Criminal Court after its prosecutor announced it was seeking arrest warrants for senior Israeli and Hamas officials, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

Congressional Republicans have signalled they plan to introduce legislation that will impose costs on the court for its decision and are expected to force a vote on a measure that could lay bare the divisions with the Democrats over the Israel-Hamas war.

James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, asked Mr Blinken at a hearing whether he would support legislation to counter “the ICC sticking its nose in the business of countries that have an independent, legitimate democratic judicial system”.

Mr Risch said he and other members are working on legislation to address the court’s actions, which he described as “wrong-headed”.

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Mr Blinken’s openness to bipartisan co-operation over the ICC is a sign of the level of anger in Washington over its request for arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant.

Mr Blinken told the committee that while the “devil’s in the details”, the Biden administration would consider Republican proposals and “take it from there”. “We want to work with you on a bipartisan basis to find an appropriate response,” Mr Blinken said.

Donald Trump’s administration in 2020 sanctioned top ICC officials in response to their efforts to investigate alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan. The sanctions were lifted by the Biden administration in 2021, although at the time it said it was opposed to the court’s actions relating to Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

The Biden administration lifted the sanctions “to find the best way to protect our service members who served in Afghanistan”, Mr Blinken said, adding that the ICC’s arrest warrant application had changed its calculus.

“Given the events of yesterday I think we have to look at the appropriate steps to take to deal with ... a profoundly wrong-headed decision,” Mr Blinken told the committee.

White House press secretary Karine-Jean Pierre on Tuesday said the administration “is having discussions ... with the [Capitol] Hill on the next steps”.

Republicans have signalled they are united in their intention to censure the court. Republican House of Representatives speaker Mike Johnson is expected to hold a vote on sanctions as soon as this week.

But the view of the Democrats is less clear. While the Democratic leadership, including Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, have all criticised the court they have not yet said whether they would support sanctions.

Progressives such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have said they support the ICC and its actions.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham praised Mr Schumer’s response to the ICC warrant application and urged him “to follow strong words with strong deeds”.

“It is imperative that the Senate, in a bipartisan way, comes up with crippling sanctions against the ICC – not only to support Israel but to deter any future action against American personnel,” Mr Graham said.

In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said his response to the ICC’s announcement was “no different from what President Biden said, this is outrageous and many people across the political spectrum in the United States ... have called it exactly that”.

“It’s a rogue prosecutor who’s out to demonise the one and only Jewish state,” he added.

Israeli forces thrust deeper into the Jabilia camp in northern Gaza on Tuesday, laying waste to residential districts with tank and air bombardments, residents said, while Israeli air strikes killed at least five people in the southern city of Rafah.

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.

In Jabilia, a sprawling refugee camp built for displaced civilians 75 years ago, the Israeli army used bulldozers to clear shops and property near the local market, residents said, in a military operation that began almost two weeks ago.

Israel said it has returned to the camp, where it had claimed to have dismantled Hamas months ago, to prevent the militant group that controls Gaza from regrouping.

The health authorities and Gaza Civil Emergency Service said dozens of bodies were trapped under rubble of houses and on the roads in Jabilia, but were out of reach of rescue teams.

“Israel is destroying the camp on the heads of the people, the bombardment never stops, and the world is calling for more food to enter Gaza. We want to spare lives not extra food,” said Abu El-Nasser, a resident of Jabilia, who fled to Gaza City.

More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza, which is now in its eighth month, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. At least 10,000 others are missing and believed to be trapped under destroyed buildings, it says.

Israel is seeking to eradicate Hamas after militants from the group stormed into southern Israel on October 7th, killing 1,200 and taking more than 250 hostages, by Israeli tallies. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024/Additional reporting: Reuters

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