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ICC Prosecutor Opted to Seek Arrest Warrants for Israeli Leaders Over Fact-Gathering Trip to Israel, Gaza

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 12, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

On May 20, the same day International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan made a surprise request for warrants to arrest the leaders of Israel and Hamas involved in the Gaza conflict, he suddenly canceled a sensitive mission to collect evidence in the region, eight people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Planning for the visit had been under way for months with US officials, four of the sources said.

Khan’s decision to request the warrants upended the plans backed by Washington and London for the prosecutor and his team to visit Gaza and Israel. The court was set to gather on-site evidence of war crimes and offer Israeli leaders a first opportunity to present their position and any action they were taking to respond to the allegations of war crimes, five sources with direct knowledge of the exchanges told Reuters.

Khan’s request for a warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the court’s first attempt to detain a sitting, Western-backed head of state — also flew in the face of efforts the US and Britain were leading to prevent the court from prosecuting Israeli leaders, the sources said.

The two states have said the court has no jurisdiction over Israel and that seeking warrants would not help resolve the conflict.

Khan’s office told Reuters the decision to seek warrants was, in line with its approach in all cases, based on an assessment by the prosecutor that there was enough evidence to proceed, and the view that seeking arrest warrants immediately could prevent ongoing crimes.

Reuters is the first to report in detail about the planned trip and the repercussions of its cancellation.

Khan had for three years been working to improve relations with the US, which is not a member of the court. He had asked Washington to help put pressure on its ally Israel — also not a court member — to allow his team access, four sources said.

His move has harmed 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 work 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 cooperation has been damaged by Khan’s sudden action.

They said problems have played out in preparations for new indictments of suspects in Sudan’s Darfur and the apprehension of fugitives. Two of the sources said one operation to detain a suspect, which they declined to describe in detail, did not go ahead as planned due to the loss of key US support. All the sources expressed concerns Khan’s action would jeopardize cooperation in other ongoing investigations.

However, Khan’s sudden move has drawn support from other countries, exposing political differences between national powers over the conflict and the court. France, Belgium, Spain, and Switzerland have made statements endorsing Khan’s decision; Canada and Germany have stated more simply that they respect the court’s independence.

The world’s war crimes court for prosecuting individuals, the ICC does not have a police force to detain suspects, so it relies on 124 countries that ratified the 1998 Rome treaty that founded 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 the visit to the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, which was due to begin on May 27, two of the sources said.

Court and Israeli officials were due to meet on May 20 in Jerusalem to work out final details of the mission. Khan instead requested 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 had taken place regarding a visit to Gaza by Khan, covering security and transportation.

Flight tickets and meetings between senior-level court and Israeli officials were canceled with just hours of notice, blindsiding some of Khan’s own staff, seven sources with direct and indirect knowledge of the decision said.

The US State Department official said that abandoning the May visit broke from the prosecution’s common practice of seeking engagement with states under investigation. Three US sources said, without providing details, that Khan’s motive to change course was not clearly explained and the about-face had hurt the court’s credibility in Washington.

Khan’s office did not directly address those points but said he had spent the three previous years trying to improve dialogue with Israel and had not received any information that demonstrated “genuine action” at a domestic level from Israel to address the crimes alleged.

Khan “continues to welcome the opportunity to visit Gaza” and “remains open to engaging with all relevant actors,” his office said in an email.

Senior Hamas official Basem Naim told Reuters Hamas had no prior knowledge of Khan’s intentions to send a team of investigators into Gaza.

Netanyahu’s office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages. Israel responded with a military campaign in Gaza aimed at freeing the hostages and dismantling Hamas’ military and governing capabilities. Hamas-controlled health authorities in Gaza say that nearly 38,000 Palestinians have died during the campaign, although experts have cast doubt on the reliability of their figures, noting they have been shown to over-count casualties and fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

WASHINGTON BLINDSIDED

The ICC admitted “the State of Palestine” in 2015, and Khan says his office has jurisdiction over alleged atrocity crimes committed since Oct. 7 by Palestinians in Israel and by anyone in the Gaza Strip. Neither the US or Britain recognize a Palestinian state, so they dispute the court’s jurisdiction over the territory.

Even though Washington and London argue that the court has no jurisdiction in this situation, they were talking to Israel to help prosecutor Khan arrange the visit, four sources close to their administrations told Reuters.

The sources said they had been aware that Khan might seek warrants for Netanyahu and other high-level Israeli officials: Since at least March, Khan or members of his team had been informing the governments of the US, UK, Russia, France, and China about the possibility of bringing charges against Israeli and Hamas leaders.

A diplomatic source in a Western country said, without giving details, there was a diplomatic effort under the radar to try to convince the ICC not to take this path.

“We worked hard to build a relationship of no surprises,” said one US source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 21 called Khan’s decision “profoundly wrong-headed,” saying it was out of line with the process he expected and would complicate prospects for a deal on freeing hostages or a ceasefire. He told a Senate appropriations committee he would work with Republicans to impose sanctions against ICC officials.

On the same day, Cameron told parliament Kahn’s move was mistaken.

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 the court and cut financial support to it, three sources with direct knowledge of the discussion said. A foreign office official declined to comment on the phone call or on Britain’s relationship to the court.

In June, the ICC allowed the UK to file a written submission outlining its legal arguments that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the case. The issue of the court’s jurisdiction divides both members and non-members of the court.

The US has a fraught relationship with the court. In 2020, under the former US President Donald Trump, Washington imposed sanctions against it, which were dropped under President Joe Biden.

Khan’s office said he “has made significant efforts to engage with the United States in recent years in order to strengthen cooperation, and has been grateful for the concrete and important assistance provided by US authorities.”

The post ICC Prosecutor Opted to Seek Arrest Warrants for Israeli Leaders Over Fact-Gathering Trip to Israel, Gaza first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

‘WRONGFULLY DETAINED’

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

The post Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

The post VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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