South Africa seeks halt to Israel’s Rafah offensive at World Court

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South Africa seeks halt to Israel’s Rafah offensive at World Court

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) speaks next to Judge Julia Sebutinde, Vice-President of the ICJ, at the start of a hearing where South Africa requests new emergency measures over Israel's attacks on Rafah, as part of an ongoing case South Africa filed at the ICJ in December last year accusing Israel of violating the Genocide Convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza, in The Hague Netherlands May 16, 2024. — Reuters pic

THE HAGUE, May 16 —South Africa asked the top UN court today to order a halt to the Rafah offensive as part of its case in The Hague accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinian people faced “ongoing annihilation”.

The hearings at the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, come after South Africa last week asked for additional emergency measures to protect Rafah, a southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering.

It also asked the court to order Israel to allow unimpeded access to Gaza for UN officials, organisations providing humanitarian aid, and journalists and investigators. It added that Israel has so far ignored and violated earlier court orders.

“The key point today is that Israel’s declared aim of wiping Gaza from the map is about to be realized,” said South Africa’s legal representative Vaughan Lowe, told the panel of judges.

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“Further, evidence of appalling crimes and atrocities is literally being destroyed and bulldozed, in effect wiping the slate clean for those who’ve committed these crimes and making a mockery of justice,” he said.

South Africa was presenting arguments in support of its request for additional emergency measures today.

Israel, which has denounced South Africa’s claim that it is violating the 1949 Genocide Convention as baseless, will respond on Friday. In previous filings it stressed it had stepped up efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza as the ICJ had ordered.

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Humanitarian zones ‘cruel distortion’

South Africa’s attorney Max du Plessis said Israel’s declared safe zones were a “cruel distortion” because people were often too starved to flee. Those strong enough to leave to shelters were sometimes attacked by Israeli forces.

“There is nothing humanitarian about these humanitarian zones,” he said. “Israel’s genocide of Palestinians continues through military attacks and man-made starvation.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations told Army Radio on Wednesday the short notice the court gave for the hearings did not allow sufficient legal preparation, adding that was “a telling sign”.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities there. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 253 taken hostage on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched the attack that started the war, according Israeli tallies.

South Africa accuses Israel of acts of genocide against Palestinians. In January, the court ordered Israel to ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza, allow in more humanitarian aid and preserve any evidence of violations.

The hearings on May 16 and 17 will only focus on issuing emergency measures, to keep the dispute from escalating. It will likely take years before the court can rule on the merits of the case.

The ICJ’s rulings and orders are binding and without appeal. While the court has no way to enforce them, an order against a country could hurt its international reputation and set legal precedent. — Reuters

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