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Israel ready to ‘intensify’ attack on Rafah as UN’s top court urged to intervene

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Israel’s defence minister has said that additional troops are set to join the ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah with the military set to “intensify” its operation to destroy Hamas – as the United Nations top court was urged to order Israel to halt the operation.

Yoav Gallant, a member of Israel’s war cabinet claimed Israeli forces are already “wearing Hamas down” in Rafah, despite the attack being yet to hit full scale.

“This operation will continue as additional forces will enter [the area]. Several tunnels in the area have been destroyed by our troops and additional tunnels will be destroyed soon,” he said in a statement.

“This activity will intensify. Hamas is not an organisation that can reorganise, it does not have reserve troops, it has no supply stocks and no ability to treat the terrorists that we target. The result is that we are wearing Hamas down.”

As he spoke, South Africa were asking the top UN court to order a halt to the operation, saying attacks on the southern Gaza city “must be stopped” to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people. The court has scheduled two days of hearings as part of South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa Zane Dangor and South African Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela look on at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (REUTERS)
Tents are set up by displaced Palestinians amid the devastation in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP via Getty Images)

The hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) come after South Africa last week asked for additional emergency measures to protect Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering.

Israel, which has denounced South Africa’s claim that it is violating the 1949 Genocide Convention as baseless, will respond on Friday. In previous filings it stressed it had stepped up efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza as the ICJ had previpously ordered.

Israel, however, insists that its operation in Rafah must go ahead as part of its war on Hamas, triggered by an attack inside Israel on 7 October during which around 1,200 people were killed and another 250 taken hostage. Israel says four Hamas battalions are now in the southern Gaza city.

In the nearly eight months since Israel responded to the terror attack by Hamas, at least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to health officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

A ship is seen off the coast of Gaza near a US-built floating pier that will be used to facilitate aid deliveries, as seen from the central Gaza Strip, (AP)
Mourners carry the body of Israeli soldier Captain Roy Beit Yaakov, who, according to Israel’s army was killed by Israeli tank fire in Gaza (REUTERS)

Also on Thursday, the US finally anchored a temporary floating pier to a beach in Gaza in the hopes of boosting aid deliveries after poor weather delayed the project.

But it was still unclear how it would be distributed given the challenges that have beset the UN and relief groups for months.

Ceasefire and hostage release talks, meanwhile, are also deadlocked over how to end the war. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said his group, which has run Gaza since 2007, should continue to have a role while President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, mediating along with Qatar and the United States, said Israel was not doing enough.

And in northern Gaza, Israel’s tanks pushed into the heart of the Jabalia refugee camp, facing anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs from militants concentrated there.

The Israeli military reported that five soldiers had been killed in the region when they were struck by Israeli tank fire.

Israeli ground forces re-entered parts of northern Gaza this month to crack down on attempts by the Islamist group Hamas to regroup.

“There was a tank crossfire of the 202 battalion resulting in the death of 5 soldiers and some soldiers injured. The soldiers were evacuated for further medical treatment, the families were updated,” the military said of the incident that occurred on Wednesday.

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