June 16, 2024

Top UN court starts ruling on bid to order Israel to halt campaign in Gaza

The president of the top United Nations court Friday began reading the ruling on a plea by South Africa to order a halt to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, with Pretoria accusing Israel of “genocide”.

Pretoria has urged the International Court of Justice to order an “immediate” stop to Israel’s campaign, including in the southern area of Rafah, and facilitate access of humanitarian aid.

Israel wants the court to toss out the request, arguing an enforced halt to the campaign would allow Hamas fighters to regroup and make it impossible to recover hostages taken in their October 7 assault.

In a highly-charged ruling in January, the court ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza but stopped short of ordering a halt in the fighting.

South Africa argues that the recent Israeli operation in Rafah changed the situation on the ground and should compel the court to issue fresh emergency orders.

The ICJ rules in disputes between countries. Its orders are legally binding but it has no means to enforce them directly. The court has, for example, ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail.

Judges could agree to South Africa’s request, reject it out of hand or even issue a completely separate set of orders.

The ICJ’s ruling comes hot on the heels of a landmark request by the International Criminal Court’s lead prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.

Prosecutor Karim Khan alleges that senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus top Hamas officials, are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the October 7 attack and the war in Gaza.

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