World awaits ICJ ruling on new plea to halt genocide in Gaza as Israel ramps up strikes on Palestinians

AFP , Friday 24 May 2024

Israeli forces struck the Gaza Strip on Friday, as the UN's top court was due to rule on a plea to halt the military offensive over accusations of "genocide".

Graphic content / Paramedics transport a body at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah following Israeli bombardment on May 23, 2024. AFP


Witnesses and AFP correspondents reported overnight air and naval strikes on Gaza City and gunfire to its south, with several casualties reported in two separate raids on residential blocks in the city's north and centre.

In northern Gaza's Jabalia area, where urban combat has flared again months after the start of the Israeli operations there, the military said the bodies of three hostages had been retrieved in an operation during the night.

A local source earlier reported helicopters firing at the Jabalia refugee camp and renewed artillery shelling in the area.

The military said the bodies of Israeli hostage Chanan Yablonka, Brazilian-Israeli Michel Nisenbaum and French-Mexican Orion Hernandez Radoux had been "rescued" and their families had been notified after forensic identification.

They were all "murdered" during the October 7 attack that sparked the war and taken into Gaza, the army said.

It follows the recovery last week of four bodies of hostages found in tunnels under Jabalia.

The military earlier reported targeted raids in Jabalia and ongoing activity in central Gaza.

Israel in early May launched an assault on Rafah, the last Gazan city to be entered by its ground troops, defying global opposition and sending more than 800,000 people fleeing, according to UN figures.

In a statement Friday, the Israeli army said its "troops are continuing operations against terror targets" in the southern city, where they had "destroyed weapon storage facilities" and tunnel shafts.

A local Palestinian source said military vehicles were advancing from eastern Rafah towards the city centre.

ICJ ruling on ceasefire

Doctor Mohammad Saleh, the acting director of Al-Awda hospital -- one of only two hospitals still functioning in northern Gaza according to the UN -- said it had been under Israeli siege for five consecutive days.

"Soldiers are present in the hospital's courtyard and in nearby houses," he said, adding there was "continuous gunfire and shelling" towards it.

As the hostilities continued, the International Court of Justice is set to rule Friday on a plea to halt the Israeli military offensive in Gaza over accusations of "genocide".

The ICJ, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in an interim ruling in January but instructed Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza.

South Africa, which filed the case later formally supported by Egypt, argued the ongoing Israeli operation in Rafah should compel the UN court to issue fresh emergency orders.

The case, which Israel says should be dismissed, could add to mounting international pressure for a truce and prisoner exchange more than seven months into the war.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor sought arrest warrants on war crimes charges against Netanyahu and his defence minister as well as three Hamas leaders.

In a blow to Israeli diplomacy, three European countries said Wednesday they would recognise a Palestinian state next Tuesday.

In response on Friday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he had decided to "sever the connection between Spain's representation in Israel and the Palestinians and to prohibit the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from providing services to Palestinians from the West Bank", a territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

It was not immediately clear how Israel would carry out the threat.

Netanyahu to address US Congress

Netanyahu, facing rising domestic pressure to secure the release of captives still held by Palestinian militants in Gaza, would soon address the US Congress, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced Thursday.

The United States, a steadfast ally of Israel during the war, has seen President Joe Biden increasingly push Netanyahu to reduce the violence, threatening to halt arms supplies amid a rising civilian death toll.

A visit to Washington by the right-wing Israeli leader would be "a very strong show of support to the Israeli government," according to Johnson.

Ceasefire talks involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators ended shortly after Israel refused to consent to a truce proposal agreed on by Hamas and launched the Rafah operation.

However, Netanyahu's office this week said the war cabinet had asked the Israeli delegation "to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages".

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 35,800 and wounded nearly 80,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Gaza's interior ministry said Thursday senior Hamas commander Diaa al-Din al-Sharafa had been killed by an Israeli strike in central Gaza, in a rare acknowledgement from Hamas of a high-ranking fatality.

Israeli forces have repeatedly targeted hospitals in their war against Hamas, alleging the militants use them as command centres and to hold hostages. Hamas denies the accusation.

Witnesses said Israeli drones were hovering around the European Hospital near Khan Younis, southern Gaza's largest city.

Israel has imposed a siege on Gaza that has deprived the territory's 2.4 million people of most clean water, food, medicine and fuel.

The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces closed the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

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