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WORLD | 26-01-2024 11:54

UN court tells Israel to protect Gazans, avoids ceasefire call

United Nations’ top court tells Israel it must act to immediately prevent the killing and harm to innocent Palestinians in an interim ruling that stopped short of demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The United Nations’ top court has told Israel it must act to immediately prevent the killing and harm to innocent Palestinians in an interim ruling that stops short of demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza strip.

The International Court of Justice also said that Israel must provide humanitarian assistance to victims of its assault, in an interim decision delivered in The Hague on Friday.

While its judgments are binding without recourse for appeal, the ICJ can’t itself enforce its orders and other countries have chosen to ignore them, notably Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa filed its case at the ICJ in December over Israel’s three-month military operation in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. It argued that the military strikes constitute genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and also asked for a fast-track ruling that orders an immediate end to Israel’s attacks. The killing “is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life,” Adila Hassim, a lawyer representing South Africa, said at a January 11 hearing on the case.

“The catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating further before the court renders its final judgement,” said Joan Donoghue, the ICJ’s presiding judge, as she explained the need for immediate action. The 17-judge panel only analysed whether to impose interim orders on Israel while the case is pending. The underlying allegations will continue through to a full hearing.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the court’s rejection of calls for a ceasefire, calling that an “outrageous demand to deny us this right.”

“The very claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians is not just false — it is abhorrent, and the willingness of the court to even discuss this is a disgrace that will not be erased for generations,” he said in a post on the X social network. “We are fighting a just war, and we will continue it until absolute victory – until we defeat Hamas, return all our captives, and ensure that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel.”

South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said at a press conference in The Hague that the court’s order doesn’t work without a ceasefire.

“I hoped for it,” she said. “The fact of delivering humanitarian aid, the fact of taking measures that reduce the levels of harm against persons who have no role in what Israel is combating, for me requires a ceasefire.”

Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union, launched a surprise incursion into Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking many hostage. Netanyahu declared the nation “at war” and retaliated with mass air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

South Africa, which has been a critic of the military campaign in Gaza, alleges Israel’s actions violate the Genocide Convention, due to the loss of Palestinian lives, displacement and humanitarian suffering since the start of the conflict.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, a figure that the court also cited in its ruling. Israel “did not start and did not want” a war, Tal Becker, a lawyer for the nation, said at a public hearing at the court earlier this month.  

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor can investigate and charge individuals with genocide, has received referrals from multiple countries including South Africa, Mexico and Chile on the situation in Palestine. Israel doesn’t recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction but the ‘State of Palestine’ is listed as party to the court’s statute.

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by Karin Matussek, Sarah Jacob & Hugo Miller, Bloomberg

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