Israel braces for World Court ruling

Stephanie van den Berg, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell |

Residents say Israeli forces have battered areas around two hospitals in Khan Younis.
Residents say Israeli forces have battered areas around two hospitals in Khan Younis.

The Hague is set to rule on whether to order Israel to suspend its military campaign in Gaza as officials push ahead with efforts to negotiate a new deal for a ceasefire and release of more Israeli hostages.

On the ground, the Israeli military said on Friday it was still engaged in “intensive battles in the heart of Khan Younis” the main city in the south of the enclave.

Israeli forces have struck dozens of Hamas fighters and infrastructure from the air and ground. It said forces also fired at Hamas targets in northern Gaza and along the Gaza coastline.

Gaza officials said on Thursday that Israeli strikes killed 20 Palestinians queuing for food aid in Gaza City, 11 people in central Gaza’s Al-Nusseirat refugee camp and at least 50 people in the prior 24 hours in Khan Younis, where Israel is currently focusing the brunt of its might.

Israel said it was either looking into the reports or did not immediately comment on the incidents.

The judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also called the World Court, are due to rule on Friday on South Africa’s request for emergency measures against Israel in a case accusing it of state-led genocide in the Gaza Strip.

In more than three months of war, Israel’s campaign has leveled much of the enclave, displaced some 1.9 million Palestinians and killed at least 25,900 people, according to Gaza officials.

Israel launched its offensive in October after militants from Hamas, which rules Gaza, stormed into southern Israel, killing 1200 people and taking 240 hostages.

The court will issue its ruling at 1pm local time in a hearing expected to last about an hour.

While the judges will not rule on the merits of the genocide allegations, which may take years to decide, South Africa asked the court to issue an interim order compelling Israel to suspend its military operations.

Israel has called South Africa’s allegations false and “grossly distorted,” and said it makes the utmost efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

The court’s rulings are final and without appeal, but it has no way of enforcing them. Israel on Thursday expressed confidence that the ICJ would “throw out these spurious and specious charges.”

Hamas said it would abide by an ICJ ceasefire order if Israel reciprocates.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to negotiate a break in the conflict continued.

US and Israeli intelligence chiefs were due to meet Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Europe this weekend, one official told Reuters.

A second source said Egypt’s intelligence chief would also participate.

A third source with knowledge of the talks said that Israel has proposed a 60-day pause in the fighting during which hostages would be released in phases, beginning with civilian women and children.

Previously, three sources told Reuters that shuttle diplomacy over the past month involving the US, Qatar and Egypt has sought to hammer out a new deal for a ceasefire of about one month.

In Gaza on Thursday, tanks hit areas around two hospitals in Khan Younis, forcing displaced people into a new desperate scramble for safety, residents said.

Israel’s military said early on Friday that its intelligence found that Hamas was operating from inside and around the two hospitals, Nasser and Al-Amal, in Khan Younis. Hamas and medical workers have denied Israeli claims that militants in Gaza use hospitals as cover for bases.

The Israeli military said it was coordinating with hospital staff to ensure they remain “operational and accessible” and there is a safe corridor for people to leave the hospitals.

“The facts on the ground disprove the blatant misinformation that has been disseminated over the last 72 hours falsely claiming that the hospitals are under siege or attack,” it said in a statement.

On Thursday, thousands of homeless people sheltering in Khan Younis sought to flee to Rafah, 15 km away, the UN relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) said.