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Monday, June 24, 2024

Israel to respond to ‘genocide’ claims at UN court

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Israel is scheduled Friday to hit back in the United Nations’ top court at allegations from South Africa that it has escalated a campaign of “genocide” with its military operation in Rafah.

Pretoria has urged the International Court of Justice to order a stop to the Israeli assault on Rafah, which Israel says is key to eliminating Hamas militants.

Israel has previously stressed its “unwavering” commitment to international law and described South Africa’s case as “wholly unfounded” and “morally repugnant.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Rafah offensive in defiance of US warnings that more than a million civilians sheltering there could be caught in the crossfire.

Netanyahu argued Wednesday that “we have to do what we have to do” and insisted that mass evacuations there had averted a much-feared “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday the operation in Rafah “will continue as additional forces will enter” the area.

On Thursday, judges heard a litany of allegations against Israel from lawyers representing Pretoria, including mass graves, torture and deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.

“South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people,” said top lawyer Vusimuzi Madonsela.

“Instead, Israel’s genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage,” added Madonsela.

In a ruling that made headlines around the world, the ICJ in January ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts and enable humanitarian aid to Gaza.

But the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire and South Africa’s argument is that the situation on the ground — notably the operation in the crowded city of Rafah — requires fresh ICJ action.

The Rafah campaign is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people”, argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.

“It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order,” he added.

The orders of the ICJ, which rules in disputes between states, are legally binding but it has little means to enforce them.

It has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, to no avail.

South Africa wants the ICJ to issue three emergency orders — “provisional measures” in court jargon — while it rules on the wider accusation that Israel is breaking the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

It wants the court to order Israel to “immediately” cease all military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah, enable humanitarian access and report back on its progress on achieving these orders.

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