Hamas praises South Africa’s legal case; Houthis vow a fierce military response to any US attacks - as it happened

Ahram Online , Thursday 11 Jan 2024

Lawyers for South Africa asked judges at Thursday’s hearings to impose binding preliminary orders on Israel, including an immediate halt to military campaign in Gaza as it reached its 97th day. South African lawyers said the latest Gaza war is part of a decades-long oppression of the Palestinians by Israel.

Tal Becker, Legal Counselor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, attends the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ahead of the hearing of the genocide case against Israel brought by South Africa, in The Hague on January 11, 2024. AFP


21:30 The Israeli military campaign in Gaza, experts say, now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history.

In just over two months, researchers say the offensive has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.

It has killed more civilians than the U.S.-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.

20:30 Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels warned Thursday that any attack by U.S.-led forces on Houthi targets will spark a fierce military response.

The Houthis have carried out dozens of attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since late November, and say their assaults are aimed at stopping Israel’s war on Gaza. Most of the ships targeted have no connection to Israel.

“The response to any American attack will not only be at the level of the operation that was recently carried out with more than 24 drones and several missiles,” said Abdel Malek al-Houthi, the group's supreme leader, during an hourlong speech. “It will be greater than that.”

On Tuesday, the Shiite Islamist group fired their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles targeting ships in the Red Sea, forcing U.S. and British naval vessels and American fighter jets to shoot down 18 drones, two cruise missiles and an anti-ship missile, the episode al-Houthi is likely referring to.

Al-Houthi’s speech comes as the likelihood of U.S. led-strikes on Houthi targets grows. Western leaders have issued several public statements warning the Houthis to cease the attacks, cautions the rebels have largely ignored.

19: 00 Reflecting on a landmark day in international justice as the UN’s top court began hearings on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, Rosa Freedman, professor of law, conflict and global development at the University of Reading, says it marked an “important” development.

But international courts have limited enforcement mechanisms, explains Freedman. "You can’t put a country into prison, you can’t send the bailiffs around to enforce international rulings," she notes. "We rely on political enforcement as well. If Israel were to ignore any provisional measures, there would be serious political consequences at the international level."

17:00: During a phone call with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi emphasised the responsibility that falls on the international community to ensure that the people in the Gaza Strip have access to relief aid.

The call also touched on the situation in the Red Sea and navigation security. Both leaders stressed the importance of intensive work to avoid expanding the conflict in the region and further enhance regional security and stability.

16:45 Hamas praised the case made by South Africa’s legal team at The International Court of Justice on Thursday accusing Israel of genocide.

In a short statement issued on the group’s Telegram page, it said South Africa is proving “its principled position in support of our Palestinian people … and its rejection of the brutal crimes of the occupation (by Israel) against our people.”

The militant group said it hoped the case would first bring an end to Israel’s three-month bombardment of Gaza and then result in the country being prosecuted on genocide charges.

16:00 Hezbollah says an Israeli airstrike on a health center run by the militant group killed two paramedics and wounded another.

Thursday’s airstrike in the border village of Hanine hit a center run by Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Organization.

Hezbollah’s media office described the attack as “a flagrant aggression on a center that serves Lebanese citizens wounded by the ongoing Israeli aggression.”

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Tensions have soared along the Israeli-Lebanese border since 7 October.

Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, has been attacking Israeli military posts along the border. Israel has been carrying out artillery shelling and airstrikes.

The violence has killed at least 20 civilians in Lebanon and more than 150 Hezbollah members.

15:30 Israel accused South Africa of serving as the "legal arm" of Hamas fighters, as lawyers presented Pretoria's "genocide" case against Israel at the UN's top court.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat described South Africa's case over Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip as "one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history".

South Africa’s lawyers cited statements by prominent Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and President Isaac Herzog as evidence that Israel was not distinguishing between Hamas and civilians, and intended to destroy Gaza. 

“What state would admit to a genocidal intent? Yet the distinctive feature of this case has not been the silence as such, but the reiteration and repetition of genocidal speech throughout every sphere of the state in Israel,” lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said during the hearing. 

Meanwhile, lawyer John Dugard has called the Gaza Strip “a concentration camp where genocide is taking place.”

15:00 A rapprochement between Israel and Arab countries is the way to isolate Iran and its proxies, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Cairo at the close of a regional tour seeking to avert the spread of the Israeli war on Gaza.

"There's a path that brings Israel's needs and desires for integration," he said. "If you make the necessary commitment to security and you move down the path to a Palestinian state, it's the single best way to isolate Iran and the proxies,” he added.

14:00 Israel recorded a budget deficit of 4.2% of gross domestic product in 2023, due to a spike in state spending to finance the war in Gaza, Reuters quoted the Israeli finance ministry as saying.

The deficit rose from an annual 3.4% in November.

In December, the deficit was 33.8 billion shekels ($9.0 billion), versus 18.5 billion a year earlier, as spending on the war was 17.2 billion shekels, while tax revenue slipped 8.4%.

Lawmakers last month approved a war budget for 2023 of around 30 billion shekels and cabinet ministers on Sunday are set to start debate and vote on a revised 2024 budget of tens of billions of shekels in extra funds that is expected to push the budget deficit to some 6% this year, according to Reuters.

12:15 Setting out South Africa's case at the ICJ, Pretoria's Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said 

"no armed attack on a state territory no matter how serious... can provide any justification for or defense to breaches of the convention." 

"Israel's response to the Oct. 7 attack has crossed this line and given rise to the breaches of the convention," he added. 

In the Hague, Adila Hassim, the advocate of the high court of South Africa, outlined Israeli acts that violated articles 2b and 2c of the genocide convention. She said:

Israel has deliberately imposed conditions on Gaza that cannot sustain life and are calculated to bring about its physical destruction … by displacement. Israel has forced the displacement of about 85% of Palestinians in Gaza. There is nowhere safe for them to flee to.

Israel’s first evacuation order on 13 October required the evacuation of over one million people including children, the elderly, the wounded, and the infirm.

The order itself was genocidal. 

All of these acts individually and collectively form a calculated pattern of conduct by Israel indicating a genocidal intent. This intent is evident from Israel’s conduct in:

Targeting Palestinians living in Gaza using weaponry that causes large-scale, homicidal destruction, as well as targeted sniping of civilians.

Designating safe zones for Palestinians to seek refuge and then bombing these.

Depriving Palestinians in Gaza of basic needs – food, water, health care, fuel, sanitation, and communications.

Destroying social infrastructure, homes, schools, mosques, churches, hospitals, and killing, seriously injuring, and leaving large numbers of children orphaned.

Genocides are never declared in advance but this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly, a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts.

Watch live here: 


11:15 Senior Biden adviser Amos Hochstein is expected to visit Beirut on Thursday to continue efforts to calm tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border as skirmishes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah escalate, Axios cited the White House as saying.

Hochstein stressed in his talks in Tel Aviv last week that once the Israeli army fully transitions to low-intensity operations in Gaza, it will help calm down the situation in Lebanon, three Israeli officials told Axios.

Hochstein told Netanyahu that once the skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah stop, he wants to start indirect negotiations on the land border, similar to the talks that led to the agreement on the maritime border last year, the Israeli officials added.

Hochstein is expected to meet with acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other senior Lebanese government and military officials to advance discussions on how to reach understandings that will restore calm along the border, a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios.

10:00 The United Nations' top court opens hearings into South Africa's accusation that Israel's war in Gaza amounts to genocide against Palestinians.

South Africa has lodged an urgent appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to force Israel to "immediately suspend" its military operations in Gaza.

In its written filing, South Africa says it wants the court “to establish Israel’s responsibility for violations of the Genocide Convention; to hold it fully accountable under international law for those violations" and to "ensure the urgent and fullest possible protection for Palestinians in Gaza who remain at grave and immediate risk of continuing and further acts of genocide.”

South Africa argues that Israel is breaking its commitments under the UN Genocide Convention, a treaty signed in 1948 as the world cried "never again" after the Holocaust.

Two days of preliminary hearings will begin with lawyers for South Africa explaining why the country has accused Israel of “acts and omissions" that are “genocidal in character” in the Gaza war and why it is calling for the court to issue an interim order for an immediate halt to Israel's military actions.

As it is an urgent procedure, the ICJ could rule in a matter of weeks.

ICJ rulings are final and cannot be appealed. However, countries do not always follow the court's verdicts.

Israel has sent a strong legal team to defend its military operation in Gaza.

Dozens of Palestinians gathered Wednesday in front of the statue of Nelson Mandela in the occupied West Bank to thank South Africa for bringing a "genocide" case against Israel over its bombardment of Gaza.

9:30 Israel has intensified its bombardment on the southern and central Gaza Strip, killing 62 Palestinians in strikes overnight, including around Gaza's main southern city of Khan Yunis, according to Gaza’s press office.

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