Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

The Hague:  The UN’s top court on Friday said Israel must do all it can to prevent genocide in its war with Hamas and allow aid into Gaza, as alarm has grown over Palestinians trapped by the conflict.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) also said Israel must facilitate “urgently needed” humanitarian aid to Gaza, in a landmark decision in a case that has sparked global attention.

The court based in The Hague - while stopping short of ordering an immediate halt to the almost four-month-old war - said Israel must do everything to “prevent the commission of all acts within the scope” of the Genocide Convention.

South Africa had brought the case against Israel, accusing it of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, set up in the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and the council of South Africa’s governing party erupted in cheers after the ruling, which the foreign ministry hailed as a “decisive victory”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the ruling as “outrageous”.

Netanyahu had already suggested he does not feel bound by the court, saying: “No-one will stop us - not The Hague, not the Axis of Evil and no-one else”.

Hamas hailed the decision as “an important development which contributes to isolating Israel and exposing its crimes in Gaza”.

Mushtana Musalim, a 56-year-old displaced man from Gaza City, expressed gratitude to South Africa for bringing the case against Israel.

“This in itself is an achievement in our favour, but going back in history, Israel has not recognised international decisions,” he told AFP. “As Palestinians, we support the step and we feel proud of it.”

Israeli flag carrier El Al said Friday ahead of the ruling that it would scrap direct flights to South Africa following “a significant fall in demand by Israeli travellers”.

The war started with the October 7 attack by Hamas that resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages and Israel says around 132 of them remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas and launched a military offensive that Gaza’s health ministry says has killed at least 26,083 people, about 70 percent of them women and children.

‘Catastrophic situation’

On the ground, images from Gaza City on Friday showed hundreds of Palestinians crowding around a truck delivering aid.

Footage from Maghazi refugee camp in nearby Deir al-Balah showed scores of decomposing bodies amid the rubble.

“We are suffering from a catastrophic situation and real famine is taking place throughout Gaza,” said one displaced man in Gaza City’s Zeitun neighbourhood.

In Khan Yunis, south Gaza’s main city, health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said Nasser Hospital had “completely run out of food, anaesthetics and painkillers as a result of the Israeli siege”.

Thousands of displaced people faced “starvation” at the facility, along with 150 staff and 350 patients, he said.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said the hospital was only functioning “minimally” as it was surrounded by the army and was experiencing intense fighting.

Elsewhere, in Khan Yunis, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli tanks were targeting the Al Amal hospital which was “under siege with heavy gunfire”.

Attacks on civilians

The scenes of desperation came a day after the Hamas-controlled health ministry accused Israeli forces of killing 20 people waiting for aid to be distributed on Gaza City’s outskirts.

It was the second such attack in two days, after the UN said tanks had shelled one of its shelters in Khan Yunis, killing 13 people.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the Israeli army had ordered people to leave the site by 5:00 pm on Friday, although the military denied issuing a specific evacuation request.

The Israeli military is the only force known to operate tanks in Gaza.

Hamas also reported fierce clashes in the centre and west of Khan Yunis, the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, the suspected mastermind of the October 7 attacks.

The army said Friday one more soldier had died in Gaza, bringing to at least 222 the overall number killed since Israeli ground operations started in late October.

‘Sea of people’

The Gaza health ministry said 120 people were killed across Gaza overnight.

Many thousands have fled to Rafah, on the southern border with Egypt, where most of the 1.7 million Palestinians displaced by the war have gathered.

They piled their belongings into cars, tractors and donkey-drawn carts while many others fled on foot.

“I don’t know where I’m heading,” said Musa Abu Yussef. “I’ve taken nothing with me, no blankets, no sheets, no (tent) - nothing at all.”

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said on social media platform X that “a sea of people” had been forced to flee Khan Yunis for the border with Egypt.

An AFP journalist in Rafah said there was no more space left for the tens of thousands escaping Khan Yunis and that fears were growing about Israeli troops reaching Rafah.

US media reported late on Thursday that CIA director William Burns would travel to Europe soon to meet his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts, as well as the Qatari prime minister, in a bid to negotiate another Gaza truce and the release of hostages.

The New York Times and Washington Post quoted unidentified officials as saying Burns would seek to launch a new round of talks, although the US intelligence agency and the White House declined to confirm his travel plans.

Under a week-long truce in November, about 100 hostages were freed by Hamas in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.