A view of the Peace Palace, which houses the International...

A view of the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. Israel is set to hear whether the United Nations' top court will order it to end its military offensive in Gaza during a case filed by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide. Credit: AP/Patrick Post

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Israel on Thursday urged the United Nations’ highest court to reject an urgent South African request to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting the southern Gaza city of Rafah breach provisional orders the court handed down last month in a case alleging genocide.

South Africa asked the International Court of Justice to decide whether Israel’s strikes on Rafah, and its intention to launch a ground offensive on the city where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, breaches both the U.N. Genocide Convention and preliminary orders handed down by the court last month in a case accusing Israel of genocide.

In a three-page submission released Thursday by the court, Israel labeled the new South African request “ highly peculiar and improper."

It goes on to say the request is “evidence of a renewed and cynical effort by South Africa to use provisional measures as a sword, rather than a shield, and to manipulate the Court to protect South Africa’s longtime ally Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization, from Israel’s inherent right and obligation to defend itself” and seek to free the more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas.

Israel strongly denies committing genocide in Gaza and says it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas militants. It says Hamas’ tactic of embedding in civilian areas makes it difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

Israel’s assault has wrought destruction in Gaza, with more than 28,000 people killed, over 70% of them women, children and young teens, according to local health officials in the Hamas-controlled enclave. Around 80% of the population has been displaced and the U.N. says more than a quarter of Palestinians in Gaza are being pushed toward starvation.

Israel says it has killed thousands of militants in its aim of crushing Hamas in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 250 were taken hostage.

Police are on horsebacks outside the Peace Palace, which houses...

Police are on horsebacks outside the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. Israel is set to hear whether the United Nations' top court will order it to end its military offensive in Gaza during a case filed by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide. Credit: AP/Patrick Post

In a statement Tuesday, South Africa’s government called Rafah “the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza.” It asked the top U.N. court to consider using its powers to issue additional preliminary orders telling Israel to halt the deaths and destruction there.

South Africa already alleged Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in its war against the Hamas militant group in Gaza and filed a case with the world court in December. A ruling on the genocide allegation could take years.

In its latest submission to the world court, Israel says South Africa “now seeks essentially to relitigate — through a truncated process in which it alarmingly sought to deprive Israel of the right to be heard — what the Court has only recently considered and decided” following hearings last month.

Israel says that the situation in Gaza is “not qualitatively different” to what South Africa claimed in its original request for urgent measures and says South Africa misuses one of the court's rules in filing its latest request.

“What is more, nothing in South Africa’s present request establishes that the provisional measures already indicated by the Court would no longer be sufficient,” Israel's document says. It also notes that the request came “less than three weeks after the Court delivered its Order indicating provisional measures, and a very short time prior to the due date for the submission by Israel of a report pursuant to that Order.”

It is not clear when the court will make a decision on South Africa's request.

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