Close aide of Syria president dies after car crash: Presidency

THE HAGUE/WASHINGTON: On May 20, the same day International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan surprisingly requested an arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders involved in the Gaza conflict, he abruptly canceled a sensitive evidence-gathering mission in the region. , eight people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Four of the sources said planning for the visit with US officials had been going on for months.
Khan’s decision to seek the warrants canceled plans backed by Washington and London for the prosecutor and his team to visit Gaza and Israel. The court was there to gather evidence of war crimes and offer Israeli leaders the first opportunity to present their position and any measures they have taken in response to the war crimes allegations, five sources with direct knowledge of the exchange told Reuters.
Khan’s request for an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – the court’s first attempt to detain a sitting Western-backed head of state – also ran into efforts led by the US and Britain to prevent the court from prosecuting Israeli leaders. sources said.
Both states said the court did not have jurisdiction over Israel and that seeking arrest warrants would not help resolve the conflict.
Khan’s office told Reuters the decision to seek the warrant was consistent with its approach in all cases based on the prosecutor’s assessment that there was enough evidence to proceed and the belief that seeking warrants immediately could prevent further crimes.
Reuters is the first to report in detail about the planned trip and the consequences of its cancellation.
Khan has worked for three years to improve relations with the US, which is not a member of the court. He asked Washington to help pressure its ally Israel — which is also not a member of the court — to allow his team access, the four sources said.
His move damaged operational cooperation with the US and angered Britain, a founding member of the court, the sources said.
A senior US State Department official said Washington continued to cooperate with the court on its investigations in Ukraine and Sudan, but three sources with direct knowledge of the US administration’s dealings with the court told Reuters that Khan’s sudden action had disrupted cooperation.
They said the problems occurred in preparations for new charges against suspects in Sudan’s Darfur and in the apprehension of refugees. Two of the sources said one operation to apprehend the suspect, which they declined to describe in detail, did not go as planned because of the loss of key U.S. support. All the sources expressed concern that Khan’s action would jeopardize cooperation in other ongoing investigations.
But Khan’s sudden move won support from other countries and exposed political differences between national powers in the conflict and the court. France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland made statements supporting Khan’s decision; Canada and Germany more simply stated that they respect the independence of the court.
The world’s war crimes court to prosecute individuals, the ICC has no police force to detain suspects, so it relies on the 124 countries that have ratified the 1998 Treaty of Rome that established it. Non-members China, Russia, the US and Israel sometimes cooperate with the court on an ad hoc basis.
A few hours in advance
Khan personally decided to cancel a visit to the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah that was scheduled to begin on May 27, two of the sources said.
The court and Israeli officials were scheduled to meet on May 20 in Jerusalem to agree on the final details of the mission. Khan instead sought arrest warrants that day for Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.
A UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that initial discussions about Khan’s visit to Gaza had taken place, covering security and transport.
Flights and meetings between the high court and Israeli officials were canceled just hours in advance, blindsides some of Khan’s own staff, said seven sources with direct and indirect knowledge of the decision.
A US State Department official said the waiver of the May visit deviates from the prosecutor’s office’s normal practice of seeking cooperation from states under investigation. Three US sources said, without providing details, that Khan’s motive for changing course was not clearly explained and the situation damaged the credibility of the Washington court.
Khan’s office did not directly address the points, but said he had spent the previous three years trying to improve dialogue with Israel and had received no information from Israel demonstrating “real action” domestically to address the alleged crimes.
Khan “continues to welcome the opportunity to visit Gaza” and “remains open to negotiations with all relevant actors,” his office said in an email.
A senior Hamas official, Basem Naim, told Reuters that Hamas was previously unaware of Khan’s plans to send a team of investigators to Gaza.
Netanyahu’s office and Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas-led militants invaded southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage. Nearly 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ground and air campaign, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Washington blinded
The ICC recognized the “State of Palestine” in 2015, and Khan says his office has jurisdiction over alleged atrocities committed since October 7 by Palestinians in Israel and anyone in the Gaza Strip. Neither the US nor Britain recognize the Palestinian state, so they dispute the court’s jurisdiction over the territory.
Although Washington and London argue that the court has no jurisdiction in the situation, they have spoken to Israel to help prosecutor Khan arrange the visit, four sources close to their administrations told Reuters.
The sources said they knew Khan might seek warrants for Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials: Since at least March, Khan or members of his team have informed the governments of the US, UK, Russia, France and China about the possibility of indicting Israeli and Hamas leaders .
A diplomatic source in a western country said, without giving details, that there was an under-the-radar diplomatic effort to persuade the ICC not to take that route.
“We worked hard to build a relationship with no surprises,” said one American source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.
On May 21, Blinken called Khan’s decision “deeply misguided” and said it ran counter to the process he expected and would complicate the prospect of a deal to release the hostages or a ceasefire. He told the Senate Appropriations Committee that he would work with Republicans to impose sanctions on ICC officials.
That same day, Cameron said in parliament that Kahn’s move was flawed.
In private, he reacted furiously to the change of plan, calling it “crazy” because Khan’s team had not yet visited Israel and Gaza, and in a phone call with Khan he threatened to withdraw Britain from the court and cut its financial support. said three sources with direct knowledge of the discussion. A foreign office official declined to comment on the phone call or Britain’s relationship with the court.
In June, the ICC allowed the UK to submit a written submission outlining its legal arguments that the ICC lacked jurisdiction over the case. The question of the court’s jurisdiction divides both members and non-members of the court.
The United States has a strained relationship with the court. In 2020, under former US President Donald Trump, Washington imposed sanctions against it, which were lifted under President Joe Biden.
Khan’s office said it had “made significant efforts to work with the United States in recent years to strengthen cooperation and was grateful for the concrete and important assistance provided by the US authorities.”

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