THE HAGUE, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Israel will respond on Friday to accusations brought by South Africa at the U.N.’s top court that its military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide campaign aimed at wiping out the Palestinian population.
South Africa, which filed the lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December, asked judges on Thursday to impose emergency measures ordering Israel to immediately halt the offensive.
It said Israel’s aerial and ground offensive – which has laid waste to much of the narrow coastal enclave and killed more than 23,000 people according to Gaza health authorities – aimed to bring about “the destruction of the population” of Gaza.
Israel rejected the accusations of genocide as baseless and said South Africa was acting as a mouthpiece for Hamas, which it views as a terrorist organisation seeking to eliminate the Jewish state. Its military was targeting Hamas militants, not Palestinian civilians, it said.
Israel launched its all-out war in Gaza after a cross-border rampage on Oct. 7 by Hamas militants in which Israeli officials said 1,200 people were killed, mainly civilians, and 240 taken hostage back to Gaza.
The 1948 Genocide Convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Since Israeli forces launched their offensive, nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes at least once, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
Post-apartheid South Africa has long advocated the Palestinian cause, a relationship forged when the African National Congress’ struggle against white-minority rule was cheered on by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation.
The court is expected to rule on possible emergency measures later this month, but will not rule at that time on the genocide allegations – those proceedings could take years.
The ICJ’s decisions are final and without appeal – but the court has no way to enforce them.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling and Bart Meijer; Editing by Alex Richardson)