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South Africa Says Israel Is Ignoring UN Court Ruling Ordering It to Prevent Deaths in Gaza

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South Africa criticizes Israel for ignoring a U.N. court ruling to prevent civilian deaths in Gaza, escalating tensions and legal challenges in the conflict. (AP/Sebabatso Mosamo)
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PRETORIA, South Africa — Israel has ignored the ruling by the U.N.’s top court last week by killing hundreds more civilians in a matter of days in Gaza, South Africa’s foreign minister said Wednesday, adding that her country has asked why an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been issued in a case South Africa filed at the separate International Criminal Court.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa would “look at proposing other measures to the global community” in a bid to stop Israel killing civilians during its war in Gaza against Hamas militants, but didn’t go into details.

UN Court’s Preliminary Ruling

The preliminary ruling by the U.N.’s International Court of Justice in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide against Palestinians in the territory. It stopped short of ordering a cease-fire. It also ruled Israel must urgently get basic humanitarian aid to Gaza and submit a report on steps taken to abide by the ruling within a month.

A top official in South Africa’s foreign ministry has said the country hopes that Friday’s ruling, and whether Israel is abiding by it, will be discussed on a wider level at the United Nations, possibly as early as Wednesday.

Since the ruling, Israel has continued its military offensive, which it says is aimed at Hamas, and hundreds more Palestinians have been killed, according to figures from the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. The ministry said Wednesday that 150 people were killed in the territory in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of Palestinian deaths in the war to more than 26,700.

The Health Ministry’s count does not differentiate between combatants and civilians. It says the majority of the dead are women and children.

“I can’t be dishonest. I believe the rulings of the court have been ignored,” South Africa’s foreign minister said. “Hundreds of people have been killed in the last three or four days. And clearly Israel believes it has license to do as it wishes.”

Pandor said there was a danger of the world doing nothing to stop the civilian casualties in Gaza and said similar inaction contributed to the horrific death toll in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in the East African country.

“We are allowing this to happen again, right before our eyes, on our TV screens,” Pandor said.

Consequences of Ignoring the Court’s Ruling

The court’s ruling is binding on Israel, and the country could face U.N. sanctions if it is found to be breaching its orders, although any sanctions may be vetoed by close ally the United States.

Netanyahu has said that Israel “will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people.” Israel says the offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas after its Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Israel says it has abided by international law and is doing its best to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. It says it has killed more than 9,000 militants and accuses Hamas of embedding in civilian areas, making it difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Black people to “homelands” before ending in 1994.

South Africa’s Legal Pressure on Israel

Pandor also said South Africa was eager to pursue the case it has lodged with the separate International Criminal Court, an indication the country will continue its legal pressure on Israel. In the ICC case, South Africa accuses Netanyahu of war crimes and asks the court to order his arrest.

The ICJ and ICC are both based in The Hague but deal with different cases. The ICJ is a U.N. court that decides disputes between countries. The ICC prosecutes individuals.

A South African delegation met with the ICC court president and prosecutor while in The Hague last week for the ICJ ruling, Pandor said, and stressed “our concern at the slow pace of action on matters that we referred to them as urgent matters.”

South Africa filed its case against Netanyahu at the ICC in November. The ICC is the same court that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin last year over alleged war crimes relating to the removal of children from Ukraine.

“The (ICC) prosecutor assured us the matter is in hand and being looked at by his office,” Pandor said of South Africa’s allegations against Netanyahu. “What I felt he didn’t answer me sufficiently on was, I asked him why he was able to issue an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin while he is unable to do so for the Prime Minister of Israel. He couldn’t answer and didn’t answer that question.”

Israel, like Russia, is not a signatory to the treaty that created the ICC and does not recognize the court’s authority.

 

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