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Israeli hostage families fly to The Hague to press ICC to investigate Hamas

FAMILIES of Israelis held hostage by Hamas since October 7 urged the International Criminal Court to ensure justice for their loved ones and to help bring them home.

“Today is Valentine’s day and Ohad, the love of my life, is still being held hostage,” freed hostage Raz Ben Ami, whose husband Ohad remains captive in Gaza, said after travelling to The Hague, where the ICC is based.

“My love, I hope you can hear me, I am still waiting for you,” she said near the ICC’s headquarters. Standing in the rain, families and activists waved Israeli flags and chanted “Bring them home now!”

On October 7, Hamas carried out a cross-border raid on southern Israel in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 240 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

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It sparked Israel’s military offensive in Gaza which has laid waste to much of the densely-populated strip of land on the Mediterranean and killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and does not recognise its jurisdiction, but the Palestinian territories were admitted as ICC members in 2015.

Prosecutor Karim Khan reaffirmed to Reuters this week that the court has jurisdiction over the events of October 7 and they form part of the court’s investigation.

Survivors of the October 7 attack and families of victims want the ICC to target Hamas leaders with arrest warrants.

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HOSTAGES

Speaking at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport before heading to The Hague, Udi Goren, cousin of 41-year-old Tal Haimi, who was abducted and later confirmed dead, said: “We want to … make sure that the leaders of Hamas are taken into custody or that they cannot leave Qatar anymore and that this puts pressure on them to release the hostages.”

Goren was among the group of around 100 family members who flew to The Hague to file the latest in several so-called Article 15 communications on behalf of Israeli victims.

These legal filings are meant to provide information to the prosecution and are part of a wider push to get the ICC to act against Hamas leaders.

In a sign that the ICC’s investigation of the October 7. attacks and Israel’s response is moving forward, lawyer Yael Vias Gvirsman, who represents another group of Israeli victims, told Reuters that a handful of her clients gave testimony directly to ICC investigators in The Hague last week.

The International Criminal Court building is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

“It was a significant next step for the investigation. Investigators sat down with victims for very long hours to hear personal accounts by key witnesses of several crime scenes of the October 7 attacks,” said Vias Gvirsman, who represents 200 Israeli victims from 42 different families at the ICC.

The case at the ICC is separate from the genocide case launched against Israel at the International Court of Justice or World Court also based in The Hague.

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The World Court is a United Nations court that deals with disputes between states while the ICC is a treaty-based criminal court focusing on individual criminal responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

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By RAMI AMICHAY

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