The Latest | Israel says it will push deeper into Rafah as ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants

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Israel’s defense minister said Monday the military would expand its operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, while the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced he’s seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders in connection with their actions during the seven-month war.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders —Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Gallant and the Israeli military leadership in Tel Aviv earlier Monday. Sullivan’s visit comes two weeks into the military’s foray into Rafah, where troops have been battling Hamas fighters and escalating bombardment.

The Biden administration has opposed a full-fledged invasion of Rafah because of fears for the civilian population. So far Israeli forces have mainly been operating in eastern parts of the city, but the fighting has already triggered an exodus of more than 810,000 Palestinians, according to the U.N.

“I emphasized to him (Sullivan) Israel’s duty to expand the ground operation in Rafah, to dismantle Hamas and to return the hostages,” Gallant said in a post on X.

In his visit, Sullivan was also discussing postwar plans for Gaza at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces criticism from the other members of his War Cabinet. Netanyahu’s main political rival Benny Gantz has threatened to leave the government if a plan is not created by June 8 that includes an international administration for postwar Gaza.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250.

The war has killed at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million Palestinians have been displaced within the territory, often multiple times.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ICC MOVE AGAINST ISRAELI LEADERS A ‘HISTORIC DISGRACE’

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s foreign minister says the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’s decision to seek arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is “a historic disgrace that will be remembered forever.”

Israel Katz said Monday he would form a special committee to fight back against any such action and would work with world leaders to ensure that any such warrants are not enforced.

ICC PROSECUTOR SEEKS ARREST WARRANTS FOR ISRAELI AND HAMAS LEADERS

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says he’s seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas.

Karim Khan said that he believes Netanyahu, his defense minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The prosecutor must request the warrants from a pre-trial panel of three judges, who take on average two months to consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

Israel is not a member of the court, and even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution. But Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it presses ahead with its war, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza as Israel tries to hunt them down. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region.

There was no immediate comment from either side.

ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MILITARY WILL EXPAND OPERATIONS INTO RAFAH

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the military would expand its operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in talks Monday with a U.S. envoy.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met Monday with Gallant and the Israeli military leadership in Tel Aviv. Sullivan’s visit comes two weeks into the military’s foray into Rafah, where troops have been battling Hamas fighters and escalating bombardment.

The Biden administration has opposed a full-fledged invasion of Rafah because of fears for the civilian population. So far Israeli forces have mainly been operating in eastern parts of the city, but the fighting has already triggered an exodus of more than 810,000 Palestinians, according to the U.N.

“I emphasized to him (Sullivan) Israel’s duty to expand the ground operation in Rafah, to dismantle Hamas and to return the hostages,” Gallant said in a post on X.

In his visit, Sullivan was also discussing postwar plans for Gaza at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces criticism from the other members of his War Cabinet. Netanyahu’s main political rival Benny Gantz has threatened to leave the government if a plan is not created by June 8 that includes an international administration for postwar Gaza.

On Sunday, Sullivan held talks with Netanyahu to discuss an ambitious U.S. plan for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel and help the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza in exchange for a path to eventual statehood. Netanyahu has rejected the creation of a Palestinian state.

Sullivan met Monday with Gantz, whose office said the two discussed “prospects for advancing normalization with Saudi Arabia.”

SUSPECTED ISRAELI AIRSTRIKES HIT NEAR SYRIA’S HOMS

DAMASCUS — Suspected Israeli airstrikes on Monday killed several people in the vicinity of the city of Homs in central Syria, pro-government media and a war monitor said.

According to the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper, four people died and four others were wounded., The U.K.-based opposition war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes killed at least six members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. There was no official confirmation of the strikes.

The observatory said the strikes hit next to a gas station south of Homs, in an area used by pro-Iranian militias, and at a Hezbollah site next to a school southwest of Homs, near the Syrian-Lebanese border. It said the strikes were the 40th time Israel had hit inside of Syria since the beginning of the year.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials. Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but rarely acknowledges them. When it does, it has said that it is seeking to stop Iran from expanding its foothold in Syria.

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