THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Israel will respond to charges of genocide at the United Nations’ top court on Friday, after South Africa filed an urgent request with the court to order a cease-fire in Gaza.

It’s the third time that the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, has held hearings on the Israel-Hamas war since South Africa filed proceedings at The Hague-based court in December..

On Thursday, South Africa told the court that the situation in Gaza has reached “a new and horrific stage,” and urged the 15 judges to take urgent action. Israel must “totally and unconditionally withdraw” from the Gaza Strip, said Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands.

South Africa has submitted four requests for the ICJ to investigate Israel. According to the latest request, the country says Israel’s military incursion in Rafah threatens the “very survival of Palestinians in Gaza.”

During hearings earlier this year, Israel strongly denied committing genocide in Gaza, saying it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas militants. Israel says Rafah is the last stronghold of the militant group.

In January, judges ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive.

The court has already found that there is a “real and imminent risk” to the Palestinian people in Gaza by Israel’s military operations.

“This may well be the last chance for the court to act,” said Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of South Africa’s legal team.

ICJ judges have broad powers to order a cease-fire and other measures, though the court doesn’t have its own enforcement apparatus. A 2022 order by the court demanding that Russia halt its full-scale invasion of Ukraine has so far gone unheeded.

Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced since fighting began.

The war began with a Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which Palestinian militants killed around 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza’s Health Ministry says, without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in its count.

South Africa initiated proceedings in December 2023 and sees the legal campaign as rooted in issues central to its identity. Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the occupied West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Blacks to “homelands.” Apartheid ended in 1994.

On Sunday, Egypt announced it plans to join the case. Several countries have also indicated they plan to intervene, but so far only Libya, Nicaragua and Colombia have filed formal requests to do so.


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