Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares Bueno addresses a media...

Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares Bueno addresses a media conference prior to talks on the Middle East in Brussels, on May 27, 2024. Spain says it will ask a United Nations court for permission to join South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza. Spain is the first European country to take the step after South Africa filed its case with the International Court of Justice late last year. It alleged that Israel was breaching the genocide convention in its military assault that has laid waste to large swaths of Gaza. Credit: AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

BARCELONA, Spain — Spain became on Thursday the first European country to ask a United Nations court for permission to join South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza.

South Africa filed its case with the International Court of Justice late last year. It alleged that Israel was breaching the genocide convention in its military assault that has laid waste to large swaths of Gaza.

The court has ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah but stopped short of ordering a cease-fire for the enclave. Israel has not complied and shows no sign of doing so.

“There should be no doubt that Spain will remain on the right side of history,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said after his foreign minister made the announcement.

Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Libya and the Palestinians are waiting for the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, to grant approval to their requests to join the case.

Israel denies it is committing genocide in its military operation to crush Hamas triggered by its deadly Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel.

Hamas killed 1,200 people and took 250 more hostage in the surprise attacks. Israel’s air and land attacks have since killed 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

“We take the decision because of the ongoing military operation in Gaza,” Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in Madrid. “We want peace to return to Gaza and the Middle East, and for that to happen we must all support the court.”

Once admitted to the case, Spain would be able to make written submissions and speak at public hearings.

Spain’s request is the latest move by Sánchez's left-wing coalition to support peacemaking efforts in Gaza.

Spain, Ireland and Norway formally recognized a Palestinian state on May 28 in a coordinated effort by the three Western European nations. Slovenia, a European Union member along with Spain and Ireland, followed suit and recognized the Palestinian state this week.

Over 140 countries have recognized a Palestinian state — more than two-thirds of the U.N. — but none of the major Western powers, including the United States, has done so.

While Sánchez has condemned the attacks by Hamas and joined demands for the return of the remaining Israeli hostages, he has not shied away from the diplomatic backlash from Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that by recognizing a Palestinian state, Sánchez’s government was “being complicit in inciting genocide against Jews and war crimes.”

Sánchez’s backing of the Palestinians is generally supported in Spain, where some university students have followed their American counterparts in protesting on campuses. Spaniards will vote in elections for the European Parliament elections on Sunday.

Last year, the International Court of Justice allowed 32 countries, including Spain, to join Ukraine’s case alleging that Russia breached the genocide convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide in its eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and using that as a pretext for the invasion.

Preliminary hearings have already been held in the genocide case against Israel, but the court is expected to take years to reach a final decision.

Albares said the decision by Spain's government had the immediate objective of adding pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to follow the court’s interim measures to stop bloodshed in Rafah.

“I insist once again that these interim measures must be complied with,” Albares said. “Whether this is genocide or not, that is for the court to decide, and Spain of course will support its decision.”

Israel sent troops into the southern city of Rafah in early May in what it said was a limited incursion, but those forces are now operating in central parts of the city. Last week, Israeli strikes hit near a U.N. Palestinian refugee agency facility in Rafah, saying they were targeting Hamas militants. An inferno that followed ripped through nearby tents housing displaced families , killing at least 45 people.

More than 1 million people have fled Rafah since the start of the operation, scattering across southern and central Gaza into new tent camps or crowding into schools and homes.

Netanyahu is also facing a separate legal challenge from the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against the Israeli leader and others, including leaders of the Hamas militant group. The U.N. General Assembly endorses the ICC, but the court is independent.

___

Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague, Netherlands.

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