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

THE HAGUE – The UN’s top court said it will rule Friday on a request by South Africa to order Israel to implement a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

South Africa has petitioned the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to “cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip” including in Rafah city, where it is pressing an offensive.

The rulings of the ICJ, which judges on disputes between states, are binding, but it has no power to enforce them — it has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail, for example.

But a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure after the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor said Monday he was seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.

In hearings last week, South Africa charged that what it described as Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza had hit a “new and horrific stage” with its assault on Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion.

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.

Lawyers for Israel hit out at South Africa’s case as being “totally divorced” from reality and that made a “mockery” of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention it is accused of breaching.

“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” top lawyer for Israel Gilad Noam said.

“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” he added.

Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.

Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.

The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.

‘Genocide Convention’

It is the fourth time South Africa has appealed to the court, with Israel accusing the country of abusing the procedure.

In a ruling that made headlines worldwide, 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.

South Africa says that Israel is acting in contravention of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, claims strongly denied by Israel.

The court rejected a second South African application for emergency measures over Israel’s threat to attack Rafah. South Africa made a new request in early March.

The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 252 people taken hostage that day, 128 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including at least 37 who the army says are dead.

More than 35,709 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the war broke out, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.

Fighting has raged around the far southern city of Rafah but a resumption of fighting has also been reported in the northern Jabalia area, where Hamas forces have regrouped. –AFP