Published: 10:36, May 18, 2024 | Updated: 10:45, May 18, 2024
Israel rejects genocide claims at ICJ, refuses to halt Gaza operations
By Xinhua
Court judges take part in a session in which Israel’s legal team presented its response to South Africa’s request of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, on May 17, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

THE HAGUE/GAZA/JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH/BEIRUT - Israel denied committing genocide in the Gaza Strip as alleged by South Africa and refused to halt its military operations, during the second and last day of public hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday in The Hague.

On May 10, South Africa filed a request to the Court to introduce additional provisional measures and to modify existing rulings applied in the case concerning the application of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip.

During the first day of the hearings on Thursday, South Africa argued that it was a matter of "extreme urgency" that Israel must immediately cease all military operations in Gaza.

South Africa's Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela told the judges that his country had returned to the court "due to the continuing annihilation of the Palestinian people, with over 35,000 now killed, and most of Gaza reduced to rubble".

South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people ... Instead, Israel's genocide has continued and has just reached a new and horrific stage.

Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa's Ambassador to the Netherlands

Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave said in a statement on Friday that the Palestinian death toll from the ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip has risen to 35,303, while the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said in a post on its X account Friday that over 630,000 people have been forced to flee Rafah since the Israeli military started its offensive on the city on May 6.

With South Africa's initial application to the ICJ on Dec 29, 2023, the judges have issued an order to Israel on Jan 26 this year to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide, to ensure that its military does not commit genocide, to halt incitement against Palestinians as a group, to preserve evidence and to take immediate measures to ensure humanitarian aid.

After that, South Africa made subsequent requests in February and March 2024 for additional provisional measures to halt Israel's "persistent acts of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza". At the end of March, the judges of the ICJ ordered Israel to, among other things, ensure, without delay, the unhindered provision at scale, by all concerned, of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.

ALSO READ: Arab Summit focuses on Gaza cease-fire

"South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people," Madonsela told the court on Thursday. "Instead, Israel's genocide has continued and has just reached a new and horrific stage."

This photograph shows the Peace Palace, the seat of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in The Hague on May 17, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Madonsela urged the court to order Israel to cease its military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah, and withdraw its troops from the entire Gaza Strip.

Additionally, the ambassador called for Israel to take "all effective measures" to ensure unimpeded access to Gaza for the United Nations and humanitarian aid.

Professor Vaughan Lowe added on behalf of South Africa that if the court did not act now, "the possibility of rebuilding a viable Palestine society in Gaza will be destroyed."

On Friday, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam told the judges that Israel has been involved in a "tragic war" to defend itself, and denied South Africa's "allegations regarding genocide"

Lowe continued by saying that Israel might invoke its right to self-defense, "but that does not give a state a license to use unlimited violence against an entire population, it does not give a state the right to commit genocide."

On Friday, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam told the judges that Israel has been involved in a "tragic war" to defend itself, and denied South Africa's "allegations regarding genocide".

He also accused South Africa of being an ally to Hamas, denying all claims and requests.

"South Africa presents the court yet again with a picture that is completely divorced from the facts and circumstances," he said.

ALSO READ: Israeli defense minister says to oppose Israeli rule over post-war Gaza

Israeli lawyer Tamar Kaplan Tourgeman emphasized Israel's "inherent right to defend itself", and urged the court to reject South Africa's request.

The concluding words of the delegation of Israel were shortly interrupted when a woman shouted "liars, liars" through the courtroom in the Peace Palace.

Presiding judge Nawaf Salam (third from right) opens the hearings at the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, Netherlands, on May 16, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

ICJ President Nawaf Salam concluded the hearings by saying the court would render its order at a public sitting "as soon as possible".

As the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, the ICJ was established by the UN Charter in 1945. It has the power "to indicate, if it considers that circumstances so require, any provisional measures," while resolving legal disputes between countries. Its judgment is final and without appeal. 

Hostage bodies in Gaza found

Separately, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) recovered in a joint night operation the bodies of three Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip, as announced by IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari on Friday.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Security Agency recovered in a joint night operation the bodies of three Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip, as announced by IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari on Friday

According to Hagari, the three Israelis, Shani Louk, Amit Buskila, and Itzik Gelenter, were kidnapped and brutally murdered on Oct 7 last year during a Hamas attack in southern Israel while trying to escape from the Nova music festival, and their bodies were taken into the Gaza Strip.

The IDF stated that the operation was based on information obtained through investigations of Hamas militants arrested in the Gaza Strip and intelligence guidance provided by the Military Intelligence Directorate.

ALSO READ: Israel continues Rafah assault as Gaza truce talks falter

Passersby observe the photos of hostages held in the Gaza Strip that are plastered to the walls of a plaza known as Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 17, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

On Friday night, the IDF attacked a target in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the northern West Bank , killing at least one and injuring eight others.

Medical sources told Xinhua that at least one person was killed and eight others injured in the airstrike on the Jenin refugee camp.

Wesam Bakr, the director of the Jenin Governmental Hospital, identified the dead as Islam Khamayseh. The Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, confirmed in a statement that Khamayseh is one of their members.

The IDF said in a statement that Israel's Air Force fighter jet and helicopter gunship "attacked a building that served as the operations room of the terrorist infrastructure in Jenin".

It confirmed the death of Khamayseh, saying he was a key wanted person in the Jenin refugee camp and responsible for several attacks in the area, including two shooting attacks about a year ago in which an Israeli was killed and others injured.

Smoke billows during an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese border village of Kfar Hamam, on May 17, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. (PHOTO / AFP)

Airstrikes in Lebanon

Meanwhile, a Hamas member was killed and two other people injured in what appeared to be a targeted Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon on Friday, Lebanese military sources told Xinhua.

The sources, who spoke anonymously, said an Israeli drone followed a four-wheel drive vehicle that was driving in the town of Rashaya, fired two air-to-surface missiles at it, burning the car and killing its driver, Sharhabil al-Sayed, and seriously wounding his companion and a civilian who happened to be at the scene.

The Al-Qassam Brigades confirmed in a statement that al-Sayed was a member.

Also on Friday, the IDF said it killed Sharhabil Ali al-Sayed, a senior commander in the Lebanese Islamic Group, or Jamaa Islamiya, in an airstrike on the area of Majdal Anjar village in southeastern Lebanon.

ALSO READ: 3 killed in Israeli strikes in S. Lebanon

Speaking with fighter soldiers near Israel's northern border with Lebanon, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said Israel prefers to avoid a difficult war with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah

"Al-Sayed has recently led many attacks and acts of terrorism from Lebanese territory against Israel in the eastern sector, in cooperation with the Lebanese Hamas branch," the IDF said in a statement.

The statement noted that the operation was carried out "to harm the organization's ability to promote and carry out terrorist operations that it planned in the recent period and in the near future against Israel on the northern border".

Earlier in the day, the IDF reported that 75 launches of rockets and drones were carried out from Lebanon into northern Israel.

Lebanese soldiers block a road that links to the scene where Israeli airstrikes attacked a vehicle and a small brick factory, in Najariyeh village, south Lebanon, May 17, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

'Avoid war with Hezebollah'

Speaking with fighter soldiers near Israel's northern border with Lebanon, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said Israel prefers to avoid a difficult war with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.

Gallant noted that Israel will eventually return the northern region residents to their homes safely, and wants to exhaust every chance to do so by agreement, "because we know that war has prices for everyone."

The minister added, "A long round of hard war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon and Hezbollah, but there would also be a price for us and we prefer to avoid that."

READ MORE: Israeli raid kills 7 paramedics in Lebanon

Gallant noted, however, that "anything can happen, and we must prepare for it. If we conclude that we need to act, we will do so simply because we have to take care of our citizens."