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Who are the Hamas leaders the ICC is seeking arrest warrants for?


May 20, 2024 08:53 PM

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The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court on Monday applied for arrest warrants against three top leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas whose bloody October 7 attack triggered the ongoing war.

Karim Khan also said he was applying for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Here is what we know about the three Palestinians that ICC prosecutor Karim Khan wants arrested.

Ismail Haniyeh, the politician: Ismail Haniyeh, 60, was elected head of the Hamas political bureau in 2017 to succeed Khaled Meshaal, but was already a well-known figure having become Palestinian prime minister in 2006 following an upset victory by Hamas in that year's parliamentary election.

But the fragile power-sharing arrangement with the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas soon ruptured and Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after violently ousting the president's loyalists.

Considered a pragmatist, Haniyeh lives in exile and splits his time between Turkey and Qatar.

He has travelled on diplomatic missions to Iran and Turkey during the war, meeting both the Turkish and Iranian presidents.

Haniyeh is said to maintain good relations with the heads of the various Palestinian factions, including rivals to Hamas.

In his youth, the Hamas leader, who is known for having a calm demeanour, was a member of the student branch of the Muslim Brotherhood at the Islamic University of Gaza.

He joined Hamas in 1987 when the militant group was founded amid the outbreak of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation, which lasted until 1993.

During that time Haniyeh was imprisoned by Israel several times and then expelled to south Lebanon for six months.

In footage broadcast by Hamas-linked media after the October 7 attack, Haniyeh was seen watching images on television of the unfolding attack on Israel, before joining other Hamas leaders in a prayer to "thank Allah for this victory".

While more than seven months of war have left swathes of Gaza in rubble, Haniyeh repeatedly insisted that the group would hand over hostages only if there was a permanent end to the fighting.

  Mohammed Deif, the 'chief of staff'  

The elusive Mohammed Deif heads Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

He is Israel's public enemy number one and a man they have tried to assassinate at least six times.

Deif, whose real name is Mohammed Diab al-Masri, was born in 1965 in Gaza's Khan Yunis refugee camp.

He has also been on the US list of "international terrorists" since 2015.

Considered by Hamas to be the group's "chief of staff", Deif announced the start of the Hamas attack on Israel dubbed "Al-Aqsa Flood" in an audio message on October 7.

In the recording, Deif is heard saying that "the positions and fortifications of the enemy have been targeted by 5,000 rockets and shells during the first 20 minutes" of the attack.

Only a few, poor-quality photographs of Deif are known to exist, the most recent taken some 20 years ago.

His hiding place is unknown and he is reported to be a master of disguise adept at blending into the Palestinian population.

He has been involved with Hamas since the 1980s and is said to have taken part in many of its operations, including the abduction of soldiers and suicide bombings.

He was appointed head of Hamas's military wing in 2002 after the death of his predecessor, Salah Shehade, in an Israeli air raid.

Two years earlier, at the start of the second intifada, Deif escaped or was freed from a prison run by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Shortly after he was named Hamas's military head, Israel launched its fifth bid to assassinate him in Gaza, in an attack that left him severely wounded, with unconfirmed reports suggesting he had been left paraplegic.

In 2014, Israel launched an air strike on Gaza, killing Deif's wife and one of the couple's children.

His enemies have dubbed him the "cat with nine lives" while many Palestinians consider him a living legend. 

 Yahya Sinwar, the 'strongman' of Gaza

 A former commander of the Hamas military wing, Yahya Sinwar, 61, was elected in 2017 as head of the militant group in Gaza.

Now, Israeli officials say he is a "dead man walking".

Sinwar stands accused of masterminding the group's October 7 attack on southern Israeli communities.

He rose through the ranks of Hamas as a fierce advocate of armed struggle against Israel and is considered the group's "defence minister".

Sinwar, who knows Israel well and speaks Hebrew, spent 23 years in Israeli jails before his release in 2011 in a prisoner exchange involving French-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Like Deif, he also is on the US list of wanted "international terrorists".

Israeli officials have said that the ongoing offensive on Gaza is in pursuit of senior Hamas leaders including Sinwar.

Known for his secrecy, Sinwar is a security operator "par excellence", according to Abu Abdallah, a Hamas member who spent years alongside him in Israeli jails.

Like Deif, he was born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, and it was Sinwar who set up the group's internal security apparatus.

Since the war broke out Sinwar's whereabouts have been unknown, but the Israeli army released a video in February it said showed the militant leader being led through a tunnel together with a woman and three children.


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