Israel set to respond to genocide accusations at world court

  • Israel plans to defend itself against genocide accusations filed by South Africa with the International Court of Justice.
  • Eylon Levy, an official in the Israeli prime minister’s office, accuses South Africa of providing political and legal cover to Hamas’ October 7 attack.
  • South Africa is seeking an order for Israel to stop its attacks and accuses it of genocide against Palestinians.

An Israeli official says Israel will defend itself against genocide accusations filed by South Africa with the world court.

Eylon Levy, an official in the Israeli prime minister’s office, on Tuesday accused South Africa of “giving political and legal cover” to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered Israel’s war against the militant group.

“The state of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice at the Hague to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel,” Levy said.

ISRAEL ANNOUNCES PARTIAL TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA IN NEW PHASE OF HAMAS WAR

South Africa launched the case Friday at the U.N.’s top court, accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and asking the court to order Israel to halt its attacks.

Israeli Airstrike

Palestinians inspect the damage of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Khan Younis, Southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 31, 2023. An Israeli official says Israel will defend itself against genocide accusations filed by South Africa with the world court. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Israel dismisses international cases against it as unfair and biased and rarely cooperates. The Israeli response signals the government is taking the case seriously.

Heavy fighting was reported in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on Tuesday, a day after Israel said it was withdrawing thousands of troops from other areas in a potential shift away from the massive air and ground operations that have devastated the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the war until Hamas is crushed and the more than 100 hostages still held by the militant group in Gaza are freed, saying it could take several more months.

ISRAELI SOLDIERS TARGETED IN ‘EXTREMELY BLOODY AND INTENSE’ BATTLES AS GAZA STRIP TENSIONS RISE

But ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel is under growing international pressure to scale back the offensive that has killed nearly 22,000 Palestinians. Blinken has urged Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.

Israel’s War Cabinet was to meet later Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office said. The agenda reportedly includes a discussion on post-war arrangements for Gaza, a highly polarizing issue in Israel. Up until now, Netanyahu has not presented any plan despite repeated U.S. requests. He has rejected proposals that the Palestinian Authority, which currently administers pockets of self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, undergo reforms and then take over administration of Gaza as a precursor to Palestinian statehood.

Word of the troop drawdown came as Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a key component of Netanyahu’s contentious judicial overhaul plan, which had deeply divided Israelis and threatened the military’s readiness before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that triggered the war.

The ruling appeared to have dealt a fatal blow to the judicial plan. Netanyahu and his allies seem unlikely to revive the divisive initiative during wartime. Elections are widely expected once the fighting winds down, and widespread anger in Israel over intelligence and security failures linked to the Hamas attack could mean a poor showing for those in power now.

The court ruling could meanwhile help Israel fend off allegations of genocide in Gaza made by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. The ICJ and other international tribunals consider whether countries have their own independent judiciaries in deciding on whether to intervene.

TROOPS ROTATE OUT BUT COMBAT CONTINUES
The army said Monday that five brigades, or several thousand troops, would be taken out of Gaza in the coming weeks. Some will head to bases for further training or rest, while many older reservists will go home. The war has taken a toll on the economy by preventing reservists from going to their jobs, running their businesses or returning to university studies.

The military has not said publicly whether the withdrawal reflects a new phase of the war. But the move is in line with the plans that Israeli leaders have outlined for a low-intensity campaign that focuses on remaining Hamas strongholds and could last for much of the year.

Israel has said it’s close to operational control over most of northern Gaza, reducing the need for forces there. Yet fierce fighting has continued in other areas of the Palestinian territory, especially the south, where many of Hamas’ forces remain intact and where most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced late Monday that residents from seven Israeli communities close to Gaza can return to their homes soon, one of the most concrete signs that the army feels confident it has minimized the threat of rocket launches from parts of Gaza.

Palestinians reported heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling overnight and into Tuesday in the southern city of Khan Younis and farming areas to the east, near the border with Israel. Fighting was also underway in and around the built-up Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

The army also issued evacuation orders to people living in parts of the camp of Nuseirat, near Bureij. The orders were delivered by phone and in leaflets dropped over the camp.

Even in Gaza City, which has been largely depopulated and where Israeli ground troops have been battling militants for over two months, residents said there were clashes in different neighborhoods, as well as in the nearby urban Jabaliya refugee camp.

The war was sparked by the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 others were taken hostage.

Israel responded with an air, ground and sea offensive that has killed more than 21,900 people in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count. The Israeli military says 173 soldiers have died since it launched its ground operation.

Israel says, without providing evidence, that more than 8,000 militants have been killed. It blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll, saying the militants embed within residential areas, including schools and hospitals.

The war has displaced some 85% of Gaza’s population, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into overcrowded shelters or teeming tent camps in Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless bombed. Palestinians are left with a sense that nowhere is safe.

RULING COULD HELP ISRAEL FEND OFF GENOCIDE CHARGES
The widespread death and destruction — unprecedented in the century-old Mideast conflict — led South Africa to file a case against Israel at the ICJ, accusing it of “genocidal” acts that aim “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza.” Israel rejected the accusations, calling them a “blood libel.”

South Africa asked The Hague-based court last week to issue an interim order for Israel to immediately suspend its military operations in Gaza. The case, if it goes ahead, will take years, but an interim order could be issued within weeks.

ISRAELI SUPREME COURT HANDS NETANYAHU A LOSS ON JUDICIAL OVERHAUL AS HAMAS WAR RAGES

It’s unclear what concrete effects an ICJ ruling against Israel would have, but it would likely isolate the country politically and economically. “Israel can’t afford to ignore this,” said Barak Medina, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He said the Supreme Court ruling against the judicial overhaul could strengthen Israel’s case by showing it has “an active and independent court” that can hold the government accountable.

The judicial overhaul itself, meanwhile, appears to have been defeated.

Medina said the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key plank of the proposed changes makes it unlikely courts would allow the others.

Netanyahu’s coalition could propose a watered-down version, but it would have to be passed by parliament, a process that would reopen deep divisions within Israeli society and generate even more anger at the prime minister, already blamed by many for the failure to prevent the Oct. 7 attack.

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