South Africa has filed an application at the International Court of Justice to begin proceedings over allegations of genocide against Israel for its war against Hamas in Gaza, the court said on Friday.
South Africa accuses Israel of being “in violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention” in its application and argues that “acts and omissions by Israel … are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent … to destroy Palestinians in Gaza,” according to the ICJ.
Over 21,507 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the enclave’s Hamas-controlled Health Ministry. Among the dead are at least 308 people who were sheltering in United Nations shelters, per the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
Israel has rejected South Africa’s claims and application to the world court, saying through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that South Africa “is calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, and that its “claim lacks both a factual and a legal basis.”
“Israel is committed to international law and acts in accordance with it, and directs its military efforts only against the Hamas terrorist organization and the other terrorist organizations cooperating with Hamas,” its statement said, adding that it has made “every effort to limit harm to the non-involved and to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.”
Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, in response to Hamas’ deadly terror attacks and kidnapping rampage on October 7, have caused widespread devastation in the densely-inhabited coastal strip, prompting outcry from aid groups and the international community.
US President Joe Biden said earlier this month that that Israel is engaged in “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza. US intelligence assessment suggests that nearly half of the air-to-ground munitions that Israel has used in Gaza in its war with Hamas have been unguided, otherwise known as “dumb bombs.” Unguided munitions are typically less precise and can pose a greater threat to civilians.
Many of the bombs used in Gaza have also been massive, capable of killing or wounding people more than 1,000 feet away, analysis by CNN and artificial intelligence company Synthetaic has suggested.
Proponents of Israel’s campaign in Gaza argue that such heavy munitions act as bunker busters, helping to destroy Hamas’ underground tunnel infrastructure. However such bombs are normally used sparingly by Western militaries, experts say. International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate bombing.
South Africa’s application came as Israel’s military said Friday that it is expanding its operations in southern Gaza, where civilians were previously told to seek refuge. It also claimed to have destroyed a network of tunnels and one of the “hideout apartments” belonging to Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. CNN cannot independently verify the IDF’s claims.
“South Africa is gravely concerned with the plight of civilians caught in the present Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip due to the indiscriminate use of force and forcible removal of inhabitants,” a statement released by South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said on Friday.
“Furthermore, there are ongoing reports of international crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, being committed as well as reports that acts meeting the threshold of genocide or related crimes as defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, have been and may still be committed in the context of the ongoing massacres in Gaza,” it says.
“As a State Party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, South Africa is under a treaty obligation to prevent genocide from occurring.”
South Africa and Israel are both parties to the Genocide Convention, according to the ICJ, which is also known as the World Court and is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.