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Blinken calls ICC’s Israeli arrest decision ‘extremely wrongheaded’

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the decision by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders on charges of war crimes in Gaza as “extremely wrongheaded,” echoing criticism leveled by President Joe Biden.

“The shameful equivalence implied between Hamas and the leadership of Israel, I think that only complicates the prospects for getting such an agreement,” Blinken said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The top U.S. diplomat faced lawmakers as the Biden administration contends with simultaneous international crises, including the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken has been at the center of Biden’s messaging struggles over the war in Gaza, seeking to project Washington’s “ironclad” support for Israel while restraining its operations in Gaza to avoid further civilian deaths and destruction.

The secretary has crisscrossed the Middle East since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, seeking to craft a plan for postwar Gaza and keep the conflict from spilling over as a cease-fire remains elusive. He has also sought to constrain Iran’s regional proxies — Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria — who’ve sought to capitalize on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Meanwhile, Israel sought Tuesday to contain the fallout from the chief prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, a move supported by three European countries, including key ally France.

Belgium, Slovenia and France each said Monday they backed the decision by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, who accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip.

The prosecutor also requested warrants for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas is already considered an international terrorist group by the United States, Canada and the European Union. Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic terrorist group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region. Qatar, like Israel, is not a member of the ICC.

In a statement Monday night about the warrant requests, France said it “supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, and his meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders.

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