Israel hits back at 'genocide' claims at UN top court

Israel will on Friday hit back in the United Nations' top court at allegations from South Africa that it has escalated a campaign of "genocide" with its military operation in Rafah.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) heard a litany of allegations against Israel from lawyers representing Pretoria, including mass graves, torture, and deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.

"South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people," said top lawyer Vusimuzi Madonsela.

"Instead, Israel's genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage," added Madonsela.

South Africa kicked off two days of hearings in The Hague by imploring judges to order a ceasefire throughout Gaza.

In January, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything to prevent genocidal acts and enable humanitarian aid to Gaza.

But the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire and South Africa's argument is that the situation now — notably the operation in the crowded city of Rafah — requires fresh ICJ action.

The Rafah campaign is "the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people", argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.

"It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order," he added.

The United States, Israel's top ally, has strongly opposed the South African case.

Asked about the latest accusations, U.S. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters, "We have been pretty clear about the fact that we do not believe that what is happening in Gaza is genocide and we...

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