Israel says South Africa 'genocide' case 'totally divorced' from facts

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that the operation in Rafah "will continue as additional forces will enter" the area.
Palestinians walk through the debris after an Israeli air and ground offensive in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians walk through the debris after an Israeli air and ground offensive in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip.Photo | AP

THE HAGUE: Israel lashed out Friday at South Africa's case before the UN's top court, describing it as "totally divorced" from reality, as Pretoria urges judges to order a ceasefire in Gaza.

"South Africa presents the court for the fourth time with a picture that is completely divorced from the facts and circumstances," top lawyer Gilad Noam told the International Court of Justice.

Pretoria has urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order a stop to the Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, which Israel says is key to eliminating Hamas militants.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Rafah offensive in defiance of US warnings that more than a million civilians sheltering there could be caught in the crossfire.

Netanyahu argued Wednesday that "we have to do what we have to do" and insisted that mass evacuations there had averted a much-feared "humanitarian catastrophe".

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that the operation in Rafah "will continue as additional forces will enter" the area.

On Thursday, judges heard a litany of allegations against Israel from lawyers representing Pretoria, including mass graves, torture and deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.

"South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people," said top lawyer Vusimuzi Madonsela.

"Instead, Israel's genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage," added Madonsela.

'Protection from genocide'

In a ruling that made headlines around the world, the ICJ in January ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts and enable humanitarian aid to Gaza.

But the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire and South Africa's argument is that the situation on the ground -- notably the operation in the crowded city of Rafah -- requires fresh ICJ action.

The Rafah campaign is "the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people", argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.

"It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order," he added.

The orders of the ICJ, which rules in disputes between states, are legally binding but it has little means to enforce them.

It has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, to no avail.

South Africa wants the ICJ to issue three emergency orders -- "provisional measures" in court jargon -- while it rules on the wider accusation that Israel is breaking the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

It wants the court to order Israel to "immediately" cease all military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah, enable humanitarian access and report back on its progress on achieving these orders.

The arrival of occasional aid convoys has slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control last week of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing.

Israel's military operations in Gaza were launched in retaliation for Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, 128 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 36 the military says are dead.

Israel's military has conducted a relentless bombardment from the air and a ground offensive inside Gaza that has killed at least 35,303 people, mostly civilians, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry.

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