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26 January 2024

Top UN court says it will not throw out genocide case against Israel

26 January 2024

The United Nations’ top court will not throw out a genocide case against Israel for its military offensive in Gaza, as part of a preliminary decision in the matter.

Joan E. Donoghue, president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, opened the session on Friday to read out the highly anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges, in a case that goes to the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

In the ruling, which was expected to take about an hour to read out, Ms Donoghue said the court would not throw out the case.

“The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering,” she said.

Friday’s decision, however, is only an interim one, it could take years for the full case brought by South Africa to be considered.

Israel rejects the genocide accusation and had asked the court to throw the charges out.

While the case winds its way through the court, South Africa has asked the judges “as a matter of extreme urgency” to impose so-called provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza.

Top of the South African list is a request for the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”.

It is also asking for Israel to take “reasonable measures” to prevent genocide and allow access for desperately needed aid.

In a statement on Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he hoped the decision would “include immediate action to stop the aggression and genocide against our people in the Gaza Strip and a rapid flow of relief aid to save the hungry, wounded and sick from the threat of slow death that threatens them”.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said on Thursday that Israel expected the court to throw out the “spurious and specious charges”.

The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering

Israel often boycotts international tribunals and UN investigations, saying they are unfair and biased.

But this time it took the rare step of sending a high-level legal team, a sign of how seriously it regards the case and likely the fear that any court order to halt operations would be a major blow to the country’s international standing.

An Israeli official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled with top legal, diplomatic and security officials on Thursday in anticipation of the ruling.

He said Israel was confident in its case but discussed “all scenarios”.

Israel launched its massive air and ground assault on Gaza after Hamas militants stormed through Israeli communities on October 7 killing some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducting another 250.

The offensive has decimated vast swathes of the territory and driven nearly 85% of its 2.3 million people from their homes.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said on Friday.

The ministry does not differentiate between combatants and civilians in its death toll, but has said about two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

The Israeli military claims at least 9,000 of those killed in the nearly four-month conflict are Hamas militants.

UN officials have expressed fears that even more people could die from disease, with at least one-quarter of the population facing starvation.

Provisional measures by the world court are legally binding, but it is not clear if Israel would comply with any order.

Top Hamas official Osama Hamdan, meanwhile, said his group would abide by a ceasefire if ordered and would be ready to release the hostages it is holding if Israel releases Palestinian prisoners.

How the US, Israel’s top ally, responds to any order will be key, since it wields veto power at the UN Security Council and thus could block measures there aimed at forcing Israel’s compliance.

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