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World Court says Israel must prevent genocide in Gaza, stops short of ceasefire order

Reuters – The World Court ordered Israel on Friday to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by the plaintiff South Africa.

While the ruling denied Palestinian hopes of a binding order to halt the war in Gaza, it represented a legal setback for Israel, which had hoped to throw out a case brought under the genocide convention established in the ashes of the World War Two Holocaust that targeted European Jews.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) found there was a case to be heard about whether Palestinian rights were being denied in a war it said was causing grievous humanitarian harm. It also called for Palestinian armed groups to release hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that precipitated the conflict.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the decision was a welcome reminder “no state is above the law”. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters it would contribute to “isolating the occupation and exposing its crimes in Gaza”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the ICJ’s decision not to order a ceasefire, but rejected the claim of genocide as “outrageous” and said Israel would continue to defend itself.


Israel had sought to have the case thrown out when South Africa brought it to the ICJ, also known as the World Court, this month under the legal principle that genocide is such a grave crime that all countries are duty-bound to prevent it.

Pretoria accused Israel of state-led genocide in its offensive, begun after Hamas militants stormed into Israel killing 1,200 and kidnapping more than 240.

It asked the court to grant emergency measures to halt the fighting, which Palestinian officials say has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians and displaced the majority of the population in a more than three-month campaign of intensive bombardment.

The ICJ judges ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide, punish acts of incitement, take steps to improve the humanitarian situation and report back on its progress in a month.

It did not decide the merits of the genocide allegations, which could take years. Although the ruling cannot be appealed, the court has no mechanism to enforce its decision.

In reading out the decision, ICJ President Judge Joan Donoghue described the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, singling out harm to children and quoting detailed descriptions of the humanitarian emergency from U.N. officials.

This, she said, justified the court’s decision to take emergency action to prevent irreparable harm. She also read out calls from Israeli officials for a harsh campaign, which she said justified the court’s order to Israel to punish people guilty of incitement.

Israel called South Africa’s allegations false and “grossly distorted”. It says it has acted in self defence against a foe that attacked first, and goes to great lengths to protect civilians, blaming Hamas for operating among them, which the fighters deny.

South Africa called the court order a “decisive victory” for international rule of law and both it and the European Union said Israel must implement it immediately and in full.

The United States noted the ruling did not make a finding about genocide and said it aligned with the U.S. view that Israel had the right to take action in accordance with international law to prevent any repeat of the Oct. 7 attacks.

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