Reports: Israeli officials believe court will accept demand

Israel said bracing for worst as ICJ to rule Friday on demand to order end to Gaza war

‘No power on Earth will stop Israel,’ says government ahead of World Court’s ruling on South Africa’s bid to have Jerusalem ordered to end Rafah operation, or even entire war

File - Judges at the International Court of Justice arrive to hear South African arguments over Israel's Rafah offensive at The Hague, May 16, 2024. (Nick Gammon/AFP)
File - Judges at the International Court of Justice arrive to hear South African arguments over Israel's Rafah offensive at The Hague, May 16, 2024. (Nick Gammon/AFP)

The United Nations’ top court said it would rule Friday on a request by South Africa to order Israel to implement a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, as Hebrew media reported that officials believe judges will at least partly accept the demand.

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

Multiple Hebrew media outlets reported Thursday that Israel was preparing for the ruling and was concerned that it would include an order to either stop the operation in Rafah or stop the war entirely.

In one of the unsourced reports, the Ynet news site said officials believe there is a low chance the ICJ will reject South Africa’s request for a cessation of hostilities, a medium chance that the court will accept South Africa’s original demand to halt the war in Gaza, and a medium-to-high chance that it will focus its ceasefire order on Rafah.

Ynet also assessed that there was a high chance the court would issue additional orders to increase humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

Channel 12 cited unnamed officials as saying that Jerusalem does not intend to uphold such a ruling.

Speaking ahead of the decision, a government spokesperson told Reuters that “no power on Earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza.”

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 potential 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.

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the UN, hears South Africa’s oral arguments asking the court to order Israel to halt its military campaign against Hamas, May 16, 2024. (International Court of Justice)

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 operation — where many civilians have been sheltering, but also where Israel says Hamas maintains its last major stronghold.

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, ethnic 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 making a “mockery” of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention the country 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.

Palestinians look at the rubble of a building that was hit overnight in an Israeli strike in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah in southern Gaza on May 20, 2024. (AFP)

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

The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled to designated safe zones. Israel says the number is at least 950,000.

‘Genocide Convention’

This 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 Rafah — requires fresh ICJ action.

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout photo published May 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

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, and South Africa made a new request in early March.

The Hamas terror onslaught on Israel on October 7 resulted in the murder of some 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and the abduction of 252 hostages, amid horrific scenes of brutality and sexual violence.

It is believed that 124 of these hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 16 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 37 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified and does not differentiate between terrorists and civilians, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle.

Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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

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