Israeli officials are bracing for an expected interim ruling from the international court of justice on South Africa’s allegation that the war in Gaza amounts to genocide against Palestinians, an emergency measure that could expose Israel to international sanctions.
The UN’s top court, which settles disputes between states, said on Wednesday that it would hand down its landmark ruling on Friday. The Hague-based body could order Israel to stop its three-month campaign in the Gaza Strip, sparked by the unprecedented attack by Hamas on 7 October. ICJ rulings are binding and cannot be appealed against, although the court has no power to enforce them.
South Africa filed a case against Israel before the court in December, alleging that the devastating offensive, which has killed 25,700 people, amounts to state-led genocide and stands in breach of the UN’s genocide convention, signed in 1948 as the world’s response to the Holocaust.
The full ruling is likely to take years, and the court is only looking at South Africa’s request for emergency measures to protect Palestinians from potential breaches of the convention on Friday. International legal experts believe an interim decision against Israel this week could serve as a pretext for sanctions.
Lawyers for South Africa alleged in their opening arguments in The Hague that Israel’s bombing campaign amounted to the “destruction of Palestinian life” and had pushed people to the brink of famine.
Israel has dismissed the allegations as “grossly distorted”, arguing it has a right to defend itself after the 7 October attack that killed 1,200 people, and that its offensive is targeting Hamas rather than the Palestinian people as a whole.
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British foreign secretary David Cameron said after a Middle East tour on Friday that progress has been made towards a deal to halt fighting in Gaza, bring in more aid and release Israeli hostages held there, Reuters reports.
In an interview in Istanbul, his last stop on the tour, Cameron said that Israel is considering a British proposal to open its Ashdod port to aid shipments to Gaza but that it would “take a lot of pushing” to reach an agreement.
“Achieving a pause where we stop the fighting and start looking at how to get aid in and hostages out, I think there is a prospect of that,” Cameron told Reuters and a Turkish broadcaster.
“That’s what I’ve been in the region talking about. And I think we are making some progress.”
About 200 Palestinian supporters in The Hague have started their march from the city centre towards the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ahead of the expected interim ruling from the court on South Africa’s allegation that the war in Gaza amounts to genocide against Palestinians, an emergency measure that could expose Israel to international sanctions. Some protesters are carrying placards reading “Free Palestine. Stop genocide.”
“I hope on a positive outcome from today’s ruling. We need a permanent ceasefire right now. All the civilian deaths are absolutely heartbreaking, it needs to stop right now,” said Jasmine, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator.
A German government spokesperson has said Germany will respect the outcome of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) interim ruling in South Africa’s case alleging genocide by Israel in Gaza, Reuters reports.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Friday an explosion was seen approximately 1 nautical mile away from a Panama-flagged, India-affiliated crude and oil products tanker south-east of the Bab al-Mandab strait near Yemen, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Ambrey added that the vessel reported seeing two blasts towards the rear, with no damage being reported.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he expects the international court of justice (ICJ) to rule that Israel has committed genocide in Gaza, Reuters reports.
Turkish foreign minister Hakan Fidan told his British counterpart David Cameron during a meeting in Istanbul on Friday that an immediate ceasefire was needed in Gaza, Reuters reports, citing a Turkish diplomatic source.
The source said the two ministers met for about 90 minutes, followed by inter-delegation talks, and discussed the war in Gaza, bilateral ties, and Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s Nato membership bid.
Fidan told Cameron that a full and immediate ceasefire and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is needed in Gaza for lasting peace, the source added.
The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said on Friday a vessel positioned approximately 60 nautical miles (nm) from Yemen’s city of Al Hudaydah reported an explosion heard and missiles sighted a few miles from its position, Reuters reports.
UKMTO added a further explosion at sea was sighted approximately 0.5 nm from the reporting vessel.
The crew and the vessel are safe, UKMTO said.
The Israeli national airline El Al said on Friday it will scrap direct flights to South Africa after “a significant fall in demand by Israeli travellers” to the country and other destinations, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“From the end of March 2024, El Al will suspend its operations on the Johannesburg-Tel Aviv route,” an El Al statement said. The final El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg is set to depart on 27 March, according to the airline’s website said AFP.
The announcement came hours before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is to issue an initial ruling on Pretoria’s case against Israel over alleged genocidal acts in Gaza.
Scores of international airlines have suspended Tel Aviv flights since the eruption of the Israel–Hamas war on 7 October, while many countries have warned their nationals against travelling to Israel.
The case brought by South Africa in the top UN court has signficantly strained relations with Israel, which denies accusations its military campaign in Gaza amounts to genocide against Palestinians.
The Hague-based ICJ could on Friday order Israel to stop its ground offensive and bombardment or Gaza, or permit more humanitarian aid to enter the territory.
The court will not however pass judgment on whether or not Israel is actually committing genocide in Gaza, as this process would probably take years.
The Irish MEP Seán Kelly suggested on Friday that the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political motives had clouded his judgment on the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.
In a statement seen by the Guardian, Kelly called Netanyahu’s recent comments on the future of Gaza “extremely concerning” and accused the Israeli prime minister of being “driven by his own personal interest”.
“What is happening today in Gaza is a humanitarian tragedy. It is clear to see that a whole population is being punished for the brutal actions of Hamas – a terrorist group which I utterly denounce,” he said. Kelly, the leader of Fine Gael in the European parliament said:
It would appear that the Israeli prime minister has his sights set on destroying Gaza and his recent comments on the future are extremely concerning. The political reality is that prime minister Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted amid the fallout of the 7 October tragedy. Even a majority of Israelis believe Netanyahu’s wartime decision-making is driven by his own personal interest. This war is devastating with thousands of innocent lives every day and it is clear the majority of the world want to see a peaceful end to the conflict as soon as possible”
Kelly added that Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution and lack of defining a political outcome for Gaza was “completely unacceptable”. He said western governments needed to be more vocal in recognising Palestinian human rights, otherwise it risked leading to a broader conflict in the area.
“I urge prime minister Netanyahu to face up to the human cost of the Israeli assault on Gaza and agree a ceasefire as soon as possible,” said Kelly. Hostages taken by Hamas must be released immediately and unconditionally, and returned safely he added.
Kelly said: “Hamas is guilty of extremely horrific acts of terrorism and must end their violent campaign and ultimately be dismantled. However, Hamas will not be eradicated by the current indiscriminate bombing. Peace and stability cannot be achieved only by military means, especially in this case.”
He called for a ceasefire as well as immediate access for humanitarian aid, saying peace could only come about if both parties were “open to some sort of compromise”.
Kelly said he and his Fine Gael colleagues voted for “every version of a ceasefire” in the most recent European parliament resolution, “recognising the importance of the parliament having a united position in calling for a ceasefire across the political spectrum”.
A drone attack on one of Iraq’s largest gas fields has led to a temporary suspension of production, resulting in major power cuts across the country’s northern Kurdistan region, officials said on Friday.
According to the news agency Reuters, no group has claimed responsibility for the explosive drone that struck Khor Mor gas field in the Sulaimaniya region of northern Iraq overnight. Kurdistan’s electricity ministry said the attack had led to a 2,800 megawatt drop in power production.
It damaged a liquid gas storage tank but caused no injuries, according to the field’s the United Arab Emirates-based operator, Dana Gas. It said production was temporarily suspended to put out a fire, which was extinguished, and a resumption of operations was expected soon.
US ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski condemned the attack, saying it “exposed millions to power outages in mid-winter”. Local sources said power from the network had been totally absent in the region since after the attack.
Pearl Petroleum, a consortium of Dana Gas and its affiliate Crescent Petroleum, have the rights to exploit the Khor Mor and Chemchemal fields, two of the biggest gas fields in Iraq.
Iraq has witnessed near-daily drone and rocket attacks since Israel’s war in Gaza began in October, mostly targeting bases housing troops belonging to a US-led military coalition. They have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of hardline pro-Iran militias.
In a separate incident on Thursday, an explosive-laden drone targeting US forces at a base near Erbil airport in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region was shot down by air defences, the region’s counter-terrorism service said.
Israeli ambassador to the UN, Meirav Eilon Shahar, accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of “collusion” with Hamas and by ignoring Israeli evidence of the “terrorist use” of hospitals in the Gaza Strip, reports the Times of Israel.
The publication cites comments made by Shahar to the WHO’s executive board on Thursday, in which she said:
(In) every single hospital that the IDF searched in Gaza, it found evidence of Hamas’ military use. These are undeniable facts that WHO chooses to ignore time and time again. This is not incompetence; it is collusion.”
Shahar also said that there could not be health care in the Palestinian territory when Hamas “embeds itself in hospitals and uses human shields.”
People are so desperate for food in Gaza that they are grinding up animal feed to use as flour, says a charity, warning that “famine is looming across the territory”.
In a statement released on its website, Actionaid said hunger in was reaching “catastrophic levels” in Gaza. The charity said:
With every single one of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants now facing crisis or worse levels of hunger, some are so desperate for food that they are grinding up animal feed to use as flour. Famine is looming across the territory, while pockets of famine are strongly suspected in the north, where it is extremely challenging for aid to reach.
None of Gaza’s 335,000 children under the age of five are getting enough nutrition, according to the World Food Programme, which risks stunting their growth and causing lifelong health complications. Meanwhile some new mothers are so undernourished that they are unable to produce milk for their children.”
A mother of six who gave birth to her son after being displaced from her home in northern Gaza told Actionaid that due to difficulty breastfeeding and the rising price of milk, she was unable to provide for her son who keeps vomiting. She said a tin of milk now costs 70 or 80 shekels (£14.82 or £16.94)
According to the charity, only 15 of Gaza’s 97 bakeries are now functional and all of these are in the south: there are no bakeries operating in the north. It also stressed the scarcity of water; the average person in Gaza now only has access to between 1.5 and 2 litres of water each day for all of their needs including drinking, washing and cleaning.
Only one of the three water pipes from Israel into Gaza now working and the amount of water available at municipal wells – which is brackish and substandard – is down to one tenth of its pre 7 October level, the charity said citing UNOCHA data.
Riham Jafari, advocacy and communications coordinator at ActionAid Palestine said:
Every single person in Gaza right now is experiencing hunger and the situation is only getting worse. We’ve heard of families who have only had a single piece of bread to share among them for the whole day. Some people are so desperate they’re grinding down animal feed to use as flour. Many have no choice but to drink dirty, contaminated water and are getting sick as a result.”
Jafari added that the “most tragic thing” about the hunger crisis in Gaza was that it had been “completely avoidable”. He added: “For weeks now, humanitarian organisations have been sounding the alarm that famine is looming, yet the number of aid trucks permitted entry into Gaza remains far too low.”
Actionaid called for increased aid trucks entering Gaza as well as an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
The latest figures from the Gaza health ministry, which is run by Hamas, said 183 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes and 377 were injured in the past 24 hours.
According to the statement, at least 26,083 Palestinians have been killed and 64,487 have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October.
The ministry does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.