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Top UN court stops short of ordering ceasefire in Gaza and demands Israel contain deaths

Top UN court stops short of ordering ceasefire in Gaza and demands Israel contain deaths
Copyright Patrick Post/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Patrick Post/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews
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South Africa, which brought the case against Israel, had asked for the court to order the Israeli Defence Forces to halt their operation.

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The United Nations' top court stopped short on Friday of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza but demanded that Israel try to contain death and damage in its military offensive in the tiny coastal enclave.

While the ruling fell short of South Africa's demands it nonetheless amounted to an overwhelming rebuke of Israel’s wartime conduct and added to mounting international pressure to halt the offensive that has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, decimated vast swaths Gaza, and driven nearly 85 per cent of its 2.3 million people from their homes.

In the highly anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges, the International Court of Justice decided not to throw out the case — and ordered six so-called provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza.

Many of the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority of the judges. An Israeli judge voted in favor of two of the six.

"The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering,” Joan E. Donoghue, the court's president, said.

Provisional measures by the World Court are legally binding, but it is not clear if Israel will comply with them.

After the ruling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the genocide claims as “outrageous” and vowed to press ahead with the war.

“We will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people,” he said.

Friday's decision is only an interim one; it could take years for the full case to be considered. Israel rejects the genocide accusation.

While the case winds its way through the court, South Africa has asked the judges “as a matter of extreme urgency” to impose provisional measures.

Top of the South African list was a request for the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza.” But the court declined to do that.

South Africa also asked for Israel to take “reasonable measures” to prevent genocide and allow access to desperately needed aid.

The court ruled that Israel must refrain from killing Palestinians or causing harm to them and that it urgently needs to get basic aid to people in Gaza. It also ruled that Israel should prevent and punish any incitement to genocide, among other measures.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh Maliki welcomed “the significant order.”

On Thursday, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said that Israel expected the court to toss out the “spurious and specious charges.”

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Israel often boycotts international tribunals and UN investigations, saying they are unfair and biased. But this time, it took the rare step of sending a high-level legal team — a sign of how seriously it regards the case and likely the fear that any court order to halt operations would be a major blow to the country’s international standing.

An Israeli official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled with top legal, diplomatic, and security officials on Thursday in anticipation of the ruling. He said Israel is confident in its case but discussed “all scenarios.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential meetings.

Israel launched its massive air and ground assault on Gaza after Hamas militants stormed through Israeli communities on 7 October killing some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducting another 250.

The Israeli military claims at least 9,000 of those killed in the nearly four-month conflict are Hamas militants.

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UN officials have expressed fears that even more people could die from disease, with at least one-quarter of the population facing starvation.

How the US, Israel's top ally, responds to any order will be key, since it wields veto power at the UN Security Council and thus could block measures there aimed at forcing Israel's compliance.

The US has said Israel has the right to defend itself but has also spoken about the need for the country to protect civilians in Gaza and allow more aid.

The genocide case strikes at the national identity of Israel, which was founded as a Jewish state after the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.

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South Africa’s own identity is key to bringing the case. Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Black people to “homelands” before ending in 1994.

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