24 May 2024, 11:16

Top UN court to rule on S. Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

THE HAGUE, May 24, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The top United Nations court on Friday
will rule on a plea by South Africa to order a halt to the Israeli military
offensive in Gaza, with Pretoria accusing Israel of "genocide".

Pretoria has urged the International Court of Justice to order an "immediate"
stop to Israel's campaign, including in the southern area of Rafah, and
facilitate access of humanitarian aid.

Israel wants the court to toss out the request, arguing an enforced ceasefire
would allow Hamas fighters to regroup and make it impossible to recover
hostages taken in their October 7 assault.

In a highly-charged ruling in January, the court ordered Israel to do
everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza but stopped short
of ordering a ceasefire.

South Africa argues that the recent Israeli operation in Rafah changed the
situation on the ground and should compel the court to issue fresh emergency

The ICJ rules in disputes between countries. Its orders are legally binding
but it has no means to enforce them directly. The court has, for example,
ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail.

Judges could agree to South Africa's request, reject it out of hand or even
issue a completely separate set of orders.

The ICJ's ruling comes hot on the heels of a landmark request by the
International Criminal Court's lead prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for
top Israeli and Hamas leaders.

Prosecutor Karim Khan alleges that senior Israeli leaders, including Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus top Hamas officials, are guilty of war
crimes and crimes against humanity related to the October 7 attack and the
war in Gaza.

- 'Limited and localised' -

In public hearings at the ICJ last week, South Africa's ambassador Vusimuzi
Madonsela alleged that "Israel's genocide has continued apace and has just
reached a new and horrific stage".

"Although the present application was triggered by the unfolding situation in
Rafah, Israel's genocidal onslaught across Gaza has intensified over the past
few days, also warranting the attention of this Court," he said.

South Africa charges the only way to enable humanitarian aid in to ease the
crisis in Gaza is a full halt to Israel's military operations.

It wants the court to issue emergency orders -- "provisional measures" in
court jargon -- while it weighs the broader South African case that Israel is
breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

Israel counters that South Africa's case is an "obscene exploitation of the
most sacred convention" and the picture Pretoria paints to the court is
"completely divorced from the facts and circumstances".

"It makes a mockery of the heinous charge of genocide," said top Israel
lawyer Gilam Noam at hearings.

"Calling something a genocide, again and again, does not make it genocide.
Repeating a lie does not make it true," he added.

Noam described Rafah as a "focal point for ongoing terrorist activity" and
said that operations there were "limited and localised", with no harm meant
to civilians.

- Bloodiest ever Gaza war -

Israel pressed ahead with the assault on Rafah, the last city in Gaza to be
entered by its ground troops, in defiance of global opposition, including
from top ally the United States.

Washington voiced concerns that about 1.4 million Palestinians trapped in the
city would be caught in the line of fire.

Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more
than 800,000 people have fled.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas's unprecedented attack on
October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly
civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37
the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza,
mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health

Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza's 2.4 million people
of most clean water, food, medicines and fuel.

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