Middle East

‘A pack of lies.’ Israeli Prime Minister denies he is starving civilians in Gaza as a method of war

By Tara John, CNN

CNN  — 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied allegations that he was starving Palestinians in Gaza as a method of war in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday, saying an arrest warrant application currently under review in the International Criminal Court (ICC) is based on a “pack of lies.”

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan announced Monday that he had requested arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders and two Israeli politicians – Netanyahu and Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant – on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks in Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Khan said the accusations against Netanyahu and Gallant include “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.”

Speaking to Tapper, Netanyahu called Khan a “rogue prosecutor that has put false charges and created false symmetries that are both dangerous and false” and insisted that Israel has been allowing food and medical aid to enter Gaza, where aid groups say that the blockaded Palestinian enclave is currently at risk of famine. Israel has allowed 20,000 trucks of aid into Gaza, Netanyahu said – a fraction of what would have entered in the same period under normal times.

Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza, following Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks, has reached its seventh month and left more than 34,000 people dead. Serious questions about the Israeli military’s long-term strategy have been raised both inside and outside of Israel after the Israeli military sent troops back into areas of northern Gaza, an area it had previously declared clear of Hamas.

Last week, Israel’s defense chief Gallant called on Netanyahu to publicly rule out Israeli governance over the Gaza Strip and to lay out his post-war plans for civilian rule in Gaza, warning that he opposes Israeli rule in the Palestinian enclave.

When Netanyahu was asked by Tapper if he would rule out the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the Israeli politician said that “resettling” the Palestinian territory was out of the question.

“You mean resettling Gaza? Yeah. It was never in the cards, and I said so openly [and] some of my constituents are not happy about it, but that’s my position.”

The prime minister also reaffirmed his commitment to eradicating Hamas, which governs Gaza, before considering demilitarizing the Strip, in the interview.

With more than 100 hostages still believed to be held in Gaza, pressure has been growing for a deal that would see hostages released in exchange for a ceasefire. But when asked about public polling showing that a majority of Israelis believe freeing hostages is a higher priority than military action, Netanyahu said you could not have one without the other.

“Military action that we take against Hamas is in fact the way to get these hostages because without military pressure, basically, without, you know, squeezing them, Hamas is not going to give up anything,” he told Tapper.

Netanyahu is deeply unpopular in Israel, where he is also facing an ongoing corruption trial. Critics have accused the Prime Minister of being beholden to members of his far-right coalition and prolonging the war to maintain his grip on power.

Speaking to Tapper, Netanyahu rejected accusations that he avoids Israeli media in favor of international press, saying he has done up to 20 press conferences with Israeli journalists. “That’s simply not true,” he said. “I speak to them and I speak to you and I welcome the opportunity to tell the truth and dispel the lies in both in both mediums.”

‘No equivalence’

The ICC’s application for warrants over the war in Gaza marked the first time the international court has targeted the top leader of a close ally of the United States.

Israel and the US are not members of the ICC, but the court has said that it has jurisdiction over Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank after Palestinian leaders formally agreed to be bound by the court’s founding principles in 2015.

A panel of ICC judges will now consider Khan’s application for the arrest warrants. An ICC warrant would compel more than 100 member-nations of the court to arrest Netanyahu if he traveled in their territory.

France was among the countries that have supported the ICC decision alongside international rights groups. Human rights organization Amnesty International has hailed the arrest warrant request as a “crucial step towards justice.”

But Israel’s allies have roundly condemned Khan’s move, with US President Joe Biden calling it “outrageous.” “There is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said.  Several US lawmakers have threatened to levy sanctions against the ICC, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he is open to legislative action against the court.

The Biden administration said earlier this month that it is “reasonable to assess” that US weapons have been used by Israeli forces in Gaza in ways that are “inconsistent” with international humanitarian law – but stopped short of officially saying Israel violated the law.

Speaking to Tapper, Netanyahu likened himself to President Franklin Roosevelt, claiming the arrest warrants were like putting Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on the docks alongside the American wartime president who oversaw the US’s mobilization during World War II.

Khan previously told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he had received international pressure over his investigation of Israel. “This court is built for Africa and for thugs like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Khan described one senior leader telling him.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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