Israel strikes Gaza as world court ruling due

Security forces pull a protestor as they disperse a demonstration by Israeli left-wing activists against the ongoing war in Gaza, in front of the US consulate in Jerusalem on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Picture: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Security forces pull a protestor as they disperse a demonstration by Israeli left-wing activists against the ongoing war in Gaza, in front of the US consulate in Jerusalem on May 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Picture: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Published May 24, 2024


Israeli forces struck the Gaza Strip on Friday, as the UN's top court was due to rule on a plea to halt the military offensive over accusations of “genocide”.

On the ground in Gaza, witnesses and AFP correspondents reported overnight air and naval strikes on Gaza City and gunfire to its south, with several casualties reported in two separate raids on residential blocks in the city's north and centre.

Israel in early May launched an assault on Rafah, the last city in Gaza to be entered by its ground troops, defying global opposition and sending more than 800,000 people fleeing, according to UN figures.

“We're not smashing into Rafah; we're operating carefully and precisely,” Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

In a statement Friday, the Israeli army said its “troops are continuing operations against terror targets” in the southern city, where they had “destroyed weapon storage facilities” and tunnel shafts.

A local Palestinian source said military vehicles were advancing from eastern Rafah towards the city centre.

Urban combat has flared again in northern areas of the Palestinian territory, which Israeli forces initially entered months ago.

"We hear nothing but the sound of explosions and gunfire," said Mahmud al-Sharif, 31, in the Jabalia refugee camp.

On Friday, a local source reported helicopters firing at the camp and renewed artillery shelling in the area.

The military reported "targeted raids" in the Jabalia area and ongoing "activity" in the central Gaza Strip.

ICJ ruling on ceasefire

Doctor Mohammad Saleh, the acting director of Al-Awda hospital — one of only two hospitals still functioning in northern Gaza according to the UN — said it had been under Israeli siege for five consecutive days.

"Soldiers are present in the hospital's courtyard and in nearby houses," he said, adding there was "continuous gunfire and shelling" towards it.

As the hostilities continued, the International Court of Justice is set to rule Friday on a plea to halt the Israeli military offensive in Gaza over accusations of "genocide".

The ICJ, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in an interim ruling in January but instructed Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza.

South Africa, which filed the case later formally supported by Israel-Hamas mediator Egypt, argued the ongoing Israeli operation in Rafah should compel the UN court to issue fresh emergency orders.

The case, which Israel says should be dismissed, could add to mounting international pressure for a truce and hostage release more than seven months into the war sparked by Hamas militants' October 7 attack.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor sought arrest warrants on war crimes charges against Netanyahu and his defence minister as well as three Hamas leaders.

In a blow to Israeli diplomacy, three European countries said Wednesday they would recognise a Palestinian state next Tuesday.

In response on Friday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he had decided to "sever the connection between Spain's representation in Israel and the Palestinians, and to prohibit the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from providing services to Palestinians from the West Bank".

It was not immediately how Israel would carry out the threat.

Netanyahu to address US Congress

Netanyahu, facing rising domestic pressure to secure the release of captives still held by Palestinian militants in Gaza, would soon address the US Congress, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced Thursday.

The United States, a steadfast ally of Israel during the war, has seen President Joe Biden increasingly push Netanyahu to reduce the violence, threatening to halt arms supplies amid a rising civilian death toll.

A visit to Washington by the right-wing Israeli leader would be "a very strong show of support to the Israeli government," according to Johnson.

Ceasefire talks involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators ended shortly after Israel launched the Rafah operation, though Netanyahu's office this week said the war cabinet had asked the Israeli delegation "to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages".

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas's unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Sporadic aid deliveries

Gaza's interior ministry said Thursday senior Hamas commander Diaa al-Din al-Sharafa had been killed by an Israeli strike in central Gaza, in a rare acknowledgement from Hamas of a high-ranking fatality.

Israeli forces have repeatedly targeted hospitals in their war against Hamas, alleging the militants use them as command centres and to hold hostages. Hamas denies the accusation.

Witnesses said Israeli drones were hovering around the European Hospital near Khan Yunis, southern Gaza's largest city.

Israel has imposed a siege on Gaza that has deprived the territory's 2.4 million people of most clean water, food, medicine and fuel.

The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces closed the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The war has triggered violence across the region, including regular cross-border fire between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

Early Friday Israel's military said a drone that "approached northern Israel from the east" was intercepted before entering Israeli territory, but a falling shrapnel caused a fire near the town of Safed.