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Top UN court orders Israel to ensure more aid reaches Gaza

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The UN’s International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to ensure that more food and humanitarian assistance reach Palestinians in Gaza, warning that famine is “setting in” there as the Israel-Hamas war enters its sixth month.

In response to a petition by South Africa, the ICJ ordered Israel to “ensure, without delay, in full co-operation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance . . . to Palestinians throughout Gaza”.

It also ordered Israel to increase “the capacity and number of land crossing points” by which aid could be delivered to Gaza, and keep them open “as long as necessary”, while ensuring that its military did not prevent “through any action, the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance”.

Israel’s foreign ministry accused South Africa of trying to “exploit” the ICJ, and said Israel was “committed to international law, including with respect to allowing and facilitating the transfer of essential humanitarian aid to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. Israel places no limitations on the amount of essential humanitarian aid that enters the Gaza Strip.”

The ICJ’s order comes amid international alarm at the soaring human toll of Israel’s offensive in Gaza. Israel launched the assault in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack on the country, during which militants killed 1,200 people and took a further 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials.

According to Palestinian officials, Israel’s retaliatory offensive has so far killed more than 32,000 people in Gaza, as well as displacing 1.7mn of its 2.3mn inhabitants, and fuelled a humanitarian catastrophe in the enclave.

At the beginning of its offensive, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza, before gradually allowing small amounts of aid to enter. However, aid groups said that the quantities reaching the strip were far below what was needed, and accused Israel of impeding deliveries. Israel denies this and has accused aid organisations of failing to organise deliveries adequately.

The UN said this month that 1.1mn people in Gaza faced “catastrophic levels of food insecurity” and warned of a “staggering escalation” in the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition, with almost a third of under-twos in the north of the strip now affected.

The ICJ said that it had taken the decision to issue its additional orders “in view of the worsening conditions of life faced by Palestinians in Gaza, in particular the spread of famine and starvation.

“Palestinians in Gaza are no longer facing only a risk of famine . . . but that famine is setting in, with at least 31 people, including 27 children, having already died of malnutrition and dehydration according to the [UN],” said the court in its order.

South Africa made its request within the framework of a case that it brought last year alleging that Israel was committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza in its war with Hamas. Israel has denied the allegations as “false and outrageous”.

A full ruling in the case is not expected for years, but the ICJ in January issued interim measures ordering Israel to comply with international law on genocide. In light of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, South Africa asked the court this month to amend its interim orders.

The court’s decisions on emergency measures are legally binding, but it cannot enforce them. In March 2022, it ordered Russia to suspend its military operations in Ukraine, but Moscow refused to comply.

Via

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