A keenly-watched hearing will get underway at the International Court of Justice in the Hague later this morning over whether or not Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian population in Gaza.
The case has been taken by South Africa, and although it could take several years, the two-day hearing will examine whether judges at the court should compel Israel to halt its bombardment on Gaza while the case continues.
Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said yesterday: “Tomorrow, the state of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel, as Pretoria gives political and legal cover to the Hamas Rapist Regime.”
The hearings will deal exclusively with South Africa’s request for emergency measures ordering Israel to suspend its military actions in Gaza while the court hears the merits of the case, a process which could take years.
Colombia and Brazil expressed their support of South Africa.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fighters carried out an 7 October cross-border attack in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 240 abducted.
Since then, Israeli forces have bombarded Gaza, and nearly all its 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes at least once, causing a humanitarian crisis.
More than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed.
On the eve of the hearings, Mr Netanyahu for the first time publicly stated opposition to calls from right-wing members of his government, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, for Palestinians to leave Gaza voluntarily, making way for Israelis to settle there.
While the stance has been Israel’s official policy, Mr Netanyahu’s prior comments on permanent occupation of Gaza have been inconsistent and at times vague.
Speaking ahead of the ICJ hearings, Mr Netanyahu said: “I want to make a few points absolutely clear: Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.”
“Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law,” he added.
Jordan and Egypt warned against any Israeli reoccupation of Gaza and appealed for displaced residents to be allowed to return to their homes as Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi met.
On the ground in Gaza, the fighting appeared intense.
Israeli strikes in southern and central Gaza intensified yesterday despite a pledge by Israel that it would pull out some troops and shift to a more targeted campaign, and pleading from its ally Washington to reduce civilian casualties.
Israel’s chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing last night that the military was focusing its operations on Khan Younis and the refugee camps in the centre of the enclave.
In the latest sign of the three-month-old war spreading, US and British warships in the Red Sea fended off the biggest attack yet from Yemen’s Houthi movement, which says it is acting to support Gaza.
Washington and London said they shot down 21 drones and missiles aimed at shipping lanes.
No one was injured.
The UN Security Council last night approved a resolution demanding the Houthis immediately cease the shipping attacks.
Israel had said this week it was planning to begin drawing down troops, at least from the northern part of Gaza, after weeks of US pressure to scale down its operations and shift to what Washington says should be a more targeted campaign.
The World Health Organization (WHO) cancelled a planned medical aid mission to Gaza due to security concerns, the sixth such cancellation in two weeks.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said four of its staffers were killed when their ambulance was hit by an Israeli strike on the main road near Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza.
During the incident two passengers in the ambulance were wounded and later died.
Palestinian health officials at Abu Youssef An-Najar Hospital in Rafah, said four Palestinian children were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his fourth trip to the region since the war began, went to Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank and met Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The State Department said Mr Blinken expressed support for a Palestinian state and discussed efforts to protect and aid civilians in Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority said Mr Abbas told Mr Blinken no Palestinians should be displaced from Gaza or the West Bank.