South Africa on Thursday asked the UN's highest court to order Israel to stop its incursion into Rafah, an operation it called “genocidal” threatening the “very survival of the Palestinians” as a group .

Pretoria lawyers, who are calling on judges to order a ceasefire in Gaza, kick off two days of hearings at the Peace Palace, seat of the International Court of Justice, around 3 p.m. (1 p.m. GMT). Justice (ICJ).

Israel, which rejects the South African accusations, will respond to them on Friday.

In a ruling in January, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent any act of genocide and allow humanitarian aid access to the Gaza Strip.

But the court did not go so far as to order a ceasefire. However, for South Africa, the evolution of the situation on the ground – in particular the operation in Rafah – requires a new order from the ICJ.

“As overwhelming evidence demonstrates, the very manner in which Israel continues its military operations in Rafah and elsewhere in Gaza is itself genocidal,” Pretoria said in its petition. “We must order him to stop.”

The orders of the ICJ, which decides disputes between states, are legally binding but it has no way of enforcing them.

South Africa is asking the ICJ for three new emergency measures while it waits for it to rule on the merits of the case – the accusation that Israel is violating the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

First, she wants the court to order Israel to “immediately withdraw and cease its military offensive” in Rafah.

Israel should also take “all effective measures” to allow “unhindered access” to Gaza for humanitarian workers, as well as journalists and investigators.

Finally, Pretoria asks the ICJ to ensure that Israel reports on the measures taken to comply with the orders.

– 'Last refuge' –
According to the UN, nearly 450,000 people have been “forcibly displaced” from Rafah since May 6, shelled by Israel and threatened with a major ground offensive.

“As the main hub for humanitarian aid in Gaza, if Rafah falls, so does Gaza,” South Africa said in its request.

“By attacking Rafah, Israel is attacking the 'last refuge' in Gaza and the only remaining area of ​​the Gaza Strip that has not yet been substantially destroyed by Israel,” the document added.

Pretoria stressed that the only way to implement existing court decisions was a “permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has sworn to annihilate Hamas, is determined to launch a major ground offensive in Rafah, where he believes the last battalions of the Palestinian movement are entrenched.

Worried about the civilian population, the United States, like a large part of the international community, is opposed to such an offensive in this city located on the Egyptian border, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people are crowded together.

Israeli military operations in Gaza were launched in retaliation for the Hamas attack on October 7 which killed more than 1,170 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP report based on official Israeli data. More than 250 people were kidnapped.

In the eighth month of the war, 35,233 people have died in the Gaza Strip, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas health ministry.

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