Close adviser of Syrian president dies after car crash: Presidency

THE HAGUE/WASHINGTON: On May 20, the same day International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan suddenly requested arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders involved in the Gaza conflict, he abruptly canceled a sensitive evidence-gathering mission in the region, eight people told Reuters. with direct knowledge of it.
Planning for the visit has been underway for months with US officials, four of the sources said.
Khan’s decision to seek the warrants overturned plans backed by Washington and London for the prosecutor and his team to visit Gaza and Israel. The court was to gather evidence of war crimes on the ground and offer Israeli leaders the first opportunity to outline their position and any action they are taking to respond to the war crimes allegations, five sources with direct knowledge of the exchange told Reuters.
Khan’s request for a warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the court’s first attempt to detain a Western-backed head of state — also faced efforts led by the United States and Britain to prevent the court from prosecuting Israeli leaders, the sources said.
The two states said the court had no jurisdiction over Israel and that seeking a warrant would not help resolve the conflict.
Khan’s office told Reuters the decision to seek the warrant was, in line with its approach in all cases, based on the prosecutor’s assessment that there was sufficient evidence to proceed, and the view that an immediate search for an arrest warrant could prevent ongoing crimes. .
Reuters was the first to report in detail about the planned trip and the consequences of its cancellation.
For three years, Khan worked to improve relations with the US, which is not a member of the court. He asked Washington to help pressure its ally Israel — also not a member of the court — to allow access to his team, four of the 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 into Ukraine and Sudan, but three sources with direct knowledge of the US administration’s dealings with the court told Reuters that cooperation had been undermined by Khan’s sudden action.
They said problems have arisen in preparing new indictments against suspects in Sudan’s Darfur and arresting fugitives. Two sources said one operation to detain the suspect, which they declined to describe in detail, did not go as planned due to the loss of key US support. All sources expressed concern that Khan’s action would jeopardize cooperation in other ongoing investigations.
However, Khan’s sudden move drew support from other countries, exposing political differences between national forces over the conflict and the court. France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland issued statements supporting Khan’s decision; Canada and Germany have stated more simply that they respect the independence of the court.
The world 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 work with the court on an ad hoc basis.
A few hours notice
Khan personally decided to cancel a visit to the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah, which had been scheduled to begin on May 27, two sources said.
The court and Israeli officials were scheduled to meet on May 20 in Jerusalem to work out the final details of the mission. Instead, Khan sought warrants that day for Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant and three Hamas leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.
A UN official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that initial discussions regarding Khan’s visit to Gaza, related to security and transportation, had taken place.
Air tickets and meetings between the high court and Israeli officials were canceled just hours in advance, blindsided some of Khan’s staff, said seven sources with direct or indirect knowledge of the decision.
A US State Department official said the cancellation of May’s visit broke with the prosecution’s usual practice of seeking engagement with countries under investigation. Three US sources said, without elaborating, that Khan’s motive for changing course was not clearly explained and that the statement damaged the credibility of the court in Washington.
Khan’s office did not directly address those points, but said he had spent the previous three years trying to advance dialogue with Israel and had received no information indicating “genuine action” domestically from Israel to address the alleged crimes.
Khan “continues to welcome the opportunity to visit Gaza” and “remains open to cooperation with all relevant actors,” according to an email from his office.
Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told Reuters that Hamas had no prior knowledge of Khan’s intentions to send a team of investigators to Gaza.
Netanyahu’s office and Israel’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas-led militants invaded southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages. Nearly 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ground and air campaign, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Washington was blindsided
The ICC recognized the “State of Palestine” in 2015, and Khan says his office has jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed since Oct. 7 by Palestinians in Israel and anyone in the Gaza Strip. Neither the US nor Britain recognize the Palestinian state, so they dispute the jurisdiction of the court over that territory.
Although Washington and London argue that the court has no jurisdiction in the situation, they have been in talks with Israel to help prosecutor Khan arrange the visit, four sources close to their administrations told Reuters.
The sources said they were aware that Khan might seek warrants for Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials: Since at least March, Khan or members of his team have been informing the governments of the US, UK, Russia, France and China about the possibility of indicting Israelis and Hamas leaders.
A diplomatic source in a Western country said, without elaborating, that there had been under-the-radar diplomatic efforts to try to persuade the ICC not to go down this path.
“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 flawed,” saying it was inconsistent with the process he expected and would complicate the prospect of reaching an agreement on the release of the hostages or a ceasefire. He told the Senate Appropriations Committee that he would work with Republicans to impose sanctions against ICC officials.
The same day, Cameron told parliament that Khan’s move was wrong.
In private, he responded furiously to the change of plan, calling it “crazy” because Khan’s team had not yet visited Israel and Gaza, and threatening in a phone call with Khan to pull Britain out of court and end financial support. three sources with direct knowledge of the discussion said. A foreign affairs official declined to comment on the phone call or Britain’s relationship with the court.
In June, the ICC allowed the UK to file a written submission outlining its legal arguments that the ICC lacked jurisdiction over the case. The question of court jurisdiction divides both members and non-members of the court.
The US has a difficult relationship with the court. In 2020, under former US President Donald Trump, Washington imposed sanctions against him, which were lifted under President Joe Biden.
Khan’s office said he “has made significant efforts to engage with the United States in recent years to strengthen cooperation and is grateful for the concrete and important assistance provided by the US authorities.”

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