Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: AP

Washington: The US and its allies are concerned that the International Criminal Court may issue arrest warrants for Israeli officials just as the country is getting closer to a cease-fire agreement with Hamas, potentially jeopardising a deal, people familiar with the matter said.

The worry is that Israel would back out of a truce if the ICC proceeds with the warrants, according to two of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. Group of Seven nations have begun a quiet diplomatic effort to convey that message to the Hague-based court, the people said.

The ICC is weighing arrest warrants targeting both senior Israeli officials as well as the leadership of Hamas over the two sides' conduct of the war in Gaza, the people said. The New York Times previously reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be among those singled out.

Two of the people said that the gap between Israel and Hamas on an agreement to release hostages had narrowed in recent weeks and that a deal was now close. Hamas is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union.

US doesn't support ICC probe

"We've been really clear about the ICC investigation - we do not support it," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday. "We don't believe that they have the jurisdiction."

The potential arrest warrants have become a major concern for Israel and the country is talking to international partners about it, one person said. Another said Netanyahu had asked Biden for help in a conversation Sunday to make sure the warrants aren't issued. Axios reported that request earlier Monday.

An ICC spokesperson declined to comment.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged leaders of the militant group to quickly reach a decision on Israeli conditions for a temporary cease-fire. Israel has been "extraordinarily generous" with proposals made during talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, Blinken said at a special event of the World Economic Forum in Riyadh on Monday.

"The eyes of the world should be on Hamas saying 'take this deal,'" UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron told the gathering. "We're in a better place potentially than we've been for a while."

The New York Times reported Monday that Israel is ready to accept the release of 33 hostages, down from at least 40, during the first phase of a new truce. Hamas has said it can't free 40 women, elderly or sick captives as demanded in return for a six-week cease-fire because it doesn't have enough hostages in that category.

Group of Seven allies have been pushing Israel to put off an incursion into Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have taken refuge. An agreement could help bring an end to fighting in Gaza and put off the assault on the city, one of the people said.