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Israel responds to Rafah genocide charges at ICJ

Published May 17, 2024last updated May 17, 2024

South Africa has filed an urgent request to the UN's top court for provisional measures, including ordering a cease-fire in Gaza. This is the third hearing on the war between Israel and the Hamas militant Islamist group.

International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague
Israel responds to South Africa's filing requesting provisional measures at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The HagueImage: Daniel Kalker/picture alliance

Israel has again contested accusations of genocide brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by South Africa after Israeli forces launched a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

South Africa urged the UN top court on Thursday to order an end to the operations and for Israel to withdraw its forces.

Israel responded to the litany of allegations that include mass graves, torture and the deliberate blocking of humanitarian aid.

"Israel is acutely aware of the large number of civilians concentrated in Rafah. It is also acutely aware of Hamas efforts to use these civilians as a shield," Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam said.

Noam said there had been no "large-scale" assault on Rafah but "specific and localized operations prefaced with evacuation efforts and support for humanitarian activities."

This is the third hearing on the war between Israel and the Hamas militant Islamist group since South Africa filed the first proceedings in December.

The court "will now begin its deliberation," an ICJ press release stated on Friday, before adding its "decision will be delivered at a public sitting, the date of which will be announced in due course."

The court continues to deliberate on the larger question of whether Israel's actions in Gaza violate the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

Top UN court hears new case against Israel

Israel says 'tragic war' in Gaza but no 'genocide'

Israel told the ICJ on Friday that South Africa's case was "completely divorced from the facts and circumstances" and that it "makes a mockery" of the charge of genocide.

Noam said the conflict was a "tragic war" but that there was no "genocide."

He said that Israel did not want or start the war with Hamas but was "under attack and fighting to defend itself and its citizens."

Noam repeated Israel's claim that Rafah is a "military stronghold for Hamas."

He lamented the "short notice" that was given for the hearing, saying Israel was given less than 24 hours to respond to South Africa's latest request.

Israel says it will send more troops to Rafah

The ICJ hearing was briefly interrupted by an anti-Israel protest.

A woman was heard calling out "liars" as an Israeli official was presenting arguments.

What did South Africa ask of the court?

In its most recent filing, South Africa asked the ICJ to order Israel to "immediately withdraw and cease its military offensive" in Rafah.

It said that Israel should be called upon to allow "unimpeded access" for humanitarian workers, investigators and journalists into the Gaza Strip.

South Africa also requested a provisional measure to ensure that Israel reports back on its efforts to adhere to the first two orders.

In January, the ICJ ordered Israel to ensure its troops do not commit genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza, allow in more humanitarian aid and preserve evidence of any violations.

On Thursday, South Africa told the court that the situation in Gaza had reached "a new and horrific stage" and that Israel was threatening the "very survival of Palestinians in Gaza" in its Rafah offensive.

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

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "we have to do what we have to do," referring to Israel's offensive in Rafah. Israel has said that it needs to enter the border city to eliminate Hamas.

Western nations tell Israel to obey international law

Also on Friday, thirteen Western countries called on Israel to comply with international law and urged it not to launch a large-scale offensive in Rafah.

"In exerting its right to defend itself, Israel must fully comply with international law, including international humanitarian law," the countries said in the appeal.

They said that an Israeli offensive in Rafah would have "catastrophic consequences" and called for "further steps" to increase the flow of aid.

Among the signatories were Australia, the UK, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Seven EU member states — Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland — also signed the appeal.

sdi/ab,rt (AP, AFP)