PM rejects South Africa’s claims of genocide, as Cyprus-Gaza sea corridor set to open

Netanyahu says IDF acting with unprecedented ‘morality’ in Strip, notes Hamas would ‘murder all of us if it could’; outgoing FM says humanitarian shipments can begin ‘immediately’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd right) chairs a cabinet meeting at the the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Dec. 31, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd right) chairs a cabinet meeting at the the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Dec. 31, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel has been displaying unparalleled “morality” in the war against Hamas and rejected South Africa’s charge that it was committing “genocidal” acts in the Gaza Strip, as Israel signaled its approval of a maritime corridor to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to the enclave.

“We will continue our defensive war, the justice and morality of which is without peer,” Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv.

His comment came after South Africa launched a case on Friday at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Israel for what it said were “genocidal” acts in Gaza.

“No, South Africa, it is not we who have come to perpetrate genocide, it is Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “It would murder all of us if it could. In contrast, the IDF is acting as morally as possible.”

The war began when some 3,000 terrorists stormed the border from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — inside Israel and seizing over 240 hostages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. In the ongoing IDF ground operation, 172 soldiers have been killed.

The Hamas health ministry said that at least 21,822 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory since war with Israel broke out nearly 12 weeks ago.

This picture taken from the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip shows plumes of smoke rising over central Gaza during Israeli strikes on December 31, 2023. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Figures issued by Hamas cannot be independently verified and include both civilians and terror operatives killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. Israel says it has killed over 8,000 Hamas and other terror group operatives in Gaza.

Maritime aid deliveries can start ‘immediately,’ FM says

Outgoing Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Sunday that Jerusalem is prepared to let ships deliver aid to Gaza “immediately” as part of the proposed sea corridor from Cyprus, naming four European countries as potential participants.

Energy Minister Israel Katz is set to swap roles with Cohen on Monday, pending Knesset approval, for two years before handing the job back to Cohen back in the government’s final year in 2026, should it last that long.

Under an arrangement first suggested by Nicosia in November, the humanitarian cargo would undergo security inspection in the Cypriot port of Larnaca before being ferried to the Gaza coast, 370 kilometers (230 miles) away, rather than through neighboring Egypt or Israel.

If the plan goes ahead, it would mark the first easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas terrorists seized control of the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (right) and his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos give a press conference in Larnaca on December 20, 2023. (Elisa AMOURET / AFP)

Israel has described the corridor as a means of ending its civilian ties to Gaza.

With hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians displaced, the idea may also go some way toward meeting a UN Security Council resolution of December 22 calling for expanded humanitarian relief mechanisms.

“It can start immediately,” Cohen told103 FM radio when asked about the Mediterranean corridor.

He said Britain, France, Greece, and the Netherlands were among the countries with vessels able to land directly on the shores of Gaza, which lacks a deep-water port. He appeared to suggest he expected them to do that rather than offload aid in Israel.

“They requested of us that the equipment come via (the Israeli port of) Ashdod. The answer is no. It won’t come via Ashdod. It won’t come via Israel. We want disengagement, with security control. That’s the goal of this process,” Cohen said.

There was no immediate response from London, Paris, Athens or Amsterdam.

Britain and Greece have previously expressed support for the Cypriot initiative, with Britain offering shallow-bottomed vessels to approach the Gaza coast, a senior Cypriot official told Reuters.

File: An aerial view of the harbor of the port of Cyprus’s southern coastal city of Larnaca, May 28, 2021. (Amir MAKAR / AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also backed the Cypriot plan, which would involve Israeli security agents taking part in the Larnaca inspections.

“As of now there is a maritime blockade, and if such an (aid) ship comes from Larnaca, it will be with our approval,” Cohen said. “It will of course be a secured corridor, as we have no intention of endangering a British or French ship coming in coordination with us.”

Several European and Arab donor countries have been sending aid to Gaza through the nearby Egyptian coastal town of el-Arish. Israel has been involved in monitoring those shipments, in what some humanitarian relief agencies say creates lags. Israel for its part says it is the UN that is holding up the pace of the aid’s arrival.

Cairo tracks traffic across its Gaza border and has ruled out any influx of Palestinian refugees. On Saturday, Israel signaled it would want control of the Gaza-Egypt border zone as part of its efforts to demilitarize the enclave.

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