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World Court orders Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza

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World Court orders Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza

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THE HAGUE:

The World Court ordered Israel on Friday to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by South Africa.

South Africa brought the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) earlier this month, asking it to grant emergency measures to halt the fighting, which has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians.

It accused Israel of state-led genocide in its offensive, begun after Hamas fighters stormed into Israel killing 1,200 and kidnapping more than 240. Israel sought to have the case thrown out.

Read more: Israel braces for World Court ruling, focuses attack on south Gaza

In Friday’s ruling, the judges said Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide, punish and must take steps to improve the humanitarian situation.

While the ICJ did not order a ceasefire, it said it would not throw out the genocide case, ruling that the Palestinians appeared to be a protected group under the 1948 Genocide Convention. It did not decide the merits of the genocide allegations.

Israel has called South Africa’s allegations false and “grossly distorted”, and said it makes the utmost efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

Over two days of hearings earlier this month in the gilded hall of the Peace Palace, where the ICJ sits, lawyers from both sides battled it over the interpretation of this Convention.

South Africa accused Israel of “genocidal” acts that were intended to cause the “destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

It urged the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend” its military operations in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach the civiilians there.

Israel dismissed the case as a “grossly distorted story” and said that if any genocidal acts had been carried out, they had been executed against Israel during the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Also read: Who are the veteran South African and Israeli judges hearing the Gaza genocide case?

“What Israel seeks by operating in Gaza is not to destroy a people, but to protect a people, its people, who are under attack on multiple fronts,” said Tal Becker, Israel’s top lawyer.

The question now is whether the court’s rulings will be obeyed.

Although its rulings are legally binding, it has no mechanism to enforce them and they are sometimes completely ignored — it has ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine for example.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already hinted Israel would not abide by any ruling saying “no one will stop us”, not even a verdict in The Hague.

But experts believe that aside from the significant symbolic impact of the ruling, there could be tangible consequences on the ground.

“It makes it much harder for other states to continue to support Israel in the face of a neutral third party finding there is a risk of genocide,” said Juliette McIntyre, international law expert from the University of South Australia.

“States may withdraw military or other support for Israel in order to avoid this,” she added.

At least 26,083 Palestinians, around 70 per cent of them women, young children and adolescents, have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli bombardments and ground offensive since then, according to the Hamas government’s health ministry.

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