South Africa seeks halt to Israel’s Rafah offensive at World Court

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A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by The International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/ File Photo

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – South Africa will ask the top U.N. court on Thursday to order a halt to the Rafah offensive as part of its case in The Hague accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

The hearings at the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, come after South Africa last week asked for additional emergency measures to protect Rafah, a southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering.

It also asked the court to order Israel to allow unimpeded access to Gaza for U.N. officials, organisations providing humanitarian aid, and journalists and investigators. It added that Israel has so far ignored and violated earlier court orders.

On Thursday, South Africa will present its latest intervention seeking emergency measures starting at 3 p.m.(1300 GMT).

Israel, which has denounced South Africa’s claim that it is violating the 1949 Genocide Convention as baseless, will respond on Friday. In previous filings it stressed it had stepped up efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza as the ICJ had ordered.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations told Army Radio on Wednesday the short notice the court gave for the hearings did not allow sufficient legal preparation, adding that was “a telling sign”.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities there. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 253 taken hostage on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched the attack that started the war, according Israeli tallies.

South Africa accuses Israel of acts of genocide against Palestinians. In January, the court ordered Israel to ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza, allow in more humanitarian aid and preserve any evidence of violations.

The hearings on May 16 and 17 will only focus on issuing emergency measures, to keep the dispute from escalating. It will likely take years before the court can rule on the merits of the case.

The ICJ’s rulings and orders are binding and without appeal. While the court has no way to enforce them, an order against a country could hurt its international reputation and set legal precedent.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, additional reporting by Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch, William Maclean)

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