The United Nations’ top court began hearings Thursday on South Africa’s allegation that Israel’s war with Hamas amounts to genocide against Palestinians. Israel strongly denies the claim. Although the case is likely to take years to resolve, South Africa is asking the International Court of Justice to order an immediate suspension of Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli military operations in Gaza have lately focused on the southern city of Khan Younis and urban refugee camps in the territory’s center. Hundreds of people have been killed in recent days in strikes across the territory, including in areas of the far south where Israel told people to seek refuge.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been meeting with leaders across the Mideast, seeking to rally the region behind postwar plans for Gaza. He spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday about a reformed Palestinian Authority governing Gaza once the war is over. Blinken then flew to the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain before wrapping up his tour Thursday in Cairo.
The Oct. 7 Hamas attack from Gaza into southern Israel that triggered the war killed around 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage by militants. Israel’s air, ground and sea assault in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 people, 70% of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
— The U.N.’s top court opens hearings on South Africa’s allegation that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.
— Blinken sees a path to Gaza peace, reconstruction and regional security after his Mideast tour.
— The Israeli military says it found traces of hostages in an underground tunnel in Gaza.
— Nelson Mandela’s support for Palestinians endures with South Africa’s genocide case against Israel.
— Friendly fire may have killed their relatives on Oct. 7. Israeli families want answers now.
— Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.
Here’s what’s happening in the war:
SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels warned Thursday that any attack by U.S.-led forces on Houthi targets will spark a fierce military response.
The Houthis have carried out dozens of attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since late November, and say their assaults are aimed at stopping Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Most of the ships targeted have no connection to Israel.
“The response to any American attack will not only be at the level of the operation that was recently carried out with more than 24 drones and several missiles,” said Abdel Malek al-Houthi, the group’s supreme leader, during an hourlong speech. “It will be greater than that.”
On Tuesday, the Shiite Islamist group fired their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles targeting ships in the Red Sea, forcing U.S. and British naval vessels and American fighter jets to shoot down 18 drones, two cruise missiles and an anti-ship missile, the episode al-Houthi is likely referring to.
Al-Houthi’s speech comes as the likelihood of U.S. led-strikes on Houthi targets grows. Western leaders have issued several public statements warning the Houthis to cease the attacks, cautions the rebels have largely ignored.
CAIRO — Hamas praised the case made by South Africa’s legal team at The International Court of Justice on Thursday accusing Israel of genocide.
In a short statement issued on the group’s Telegram page, it said South Africa is proving “its principled position in support of our Palestinian people … and its rejection of the brutal crimes of the occupation (by Israel) against our people.”
The militant group said it hoped the case will first bring an end to Israel’s three-month bombardment of Gaza and then result in the country being prosecuted on genocide charges.
The Hamas-Israel war erupted on Oct. 7 when militants from the group stormed southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, mostly Israelis, and abducted about 250 others. Israel has said the attack amounts to a war crime.
Israel responded by launching an aerial and ground assault on Gaza, flattening large swathes of the territory. The Hamas-run Health Ministry says more than 23,300 people have been killed by Israeli fire and strikes since the war erupted.
BEIRUT — Hezbollah says an Israeli airstrike on a health center run by the militant group killed two paramedics and wounded another.
Thursday’s airstrike in the border village of Hanine hit a center run by Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Organization.
Hezbollah’s media office described the attack as “a flagrant aggression on a center that serves Lebanese citizens wounded by the ongoing Israeli aggression.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Tensions have soared along the Israeli-Lebanese border since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel ignited the war in Gaza. Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, has been attacking Israeli military posts along the border. Israel has been carrying out artillery shelling and airstrikes.
The violence has killed at least 20 civilians in Lebanon and more than 150 Hezbollah members.
CAIRO — The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said Thursday that the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire and airstrikes has risen to 23,469 since the war erupted on Oct. 7. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesperson for the ministry, said 59,604 other people were wounded over the same period. He said 70% of those killed were women and children.
The majority of the dead have been killed in Israeli airstrikes that have decimated vast swathes of the territory.
The war between Israel and Hamas broke out when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, mostly Israelis, and abducted about 250 others.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman is calling South Africa’s appearance at the International Court of Justice to accuse Israel of genocide “one of history’s greatest displays of hypocrisy.”
In a post on X, formerly called Twitter, after the hearing Thursday, Lior Haiat called South Africa “Hamas’ representatives in court.” He said its lawyers distorted the reality in Gaza through a series of “baseless and false claims,” without elaborating.
He said South Africa ignored the brutal nature of Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, when 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, saying it was an attempt at genocide. He said the lawyers also ignored Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields and that it operates from within civilian areas.
He said Israel would continue to work to crush Hamas and free the hostages that remain in its captivity.
CAIRO — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is wrapping up his latest urgent Mideast tour on Thursday with talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, as U.S. officials claim modest success in getting Mideast leaders on board with general planning for construction and governance in Gaza after Israel’s war with Hamas ends.
Blinken secured Arab support to begin such planning in discussions with the leaders of Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over the weeklong mission.
Each country — along with Greece, which Blinken also visited — pledged to participate in the planning, but officials said precise roles have yet to be determined.
Speaking at Cairo’s airport, Blinken said Israel bolstering its security and the creation of a Palestinian state is the best way to thwart attacks from Iran’s regional proxies.
“The other path is to continue to see the terrorism, the denialism, and the destruction by Hamas, by the Houthis, by Hezbollah, all backed by Iran,” he said.
No details were immediately released about his meeting with the Egyptian president.
Arab support is contingent on not only the end of the conflict but the establishment of a specific pathway for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, something that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes.
BEIRUT — A senior U.S. envoy who arrived Thursday in Beirut as part of an international scramble to contain the regional fallout of the ongoing war in Gaza reiterated that the U.S. wants a diplomatic solution to prevent a further escalation of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanese border.
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Israeli forces have clashed almost daily for the past three months. The border fighting has escalated in recent weeks, particularly since suspected Israeli strikes killed a top Hamas leader and a senior Hezbollah commander in Lebanon this month.
Israeli officials have threatened a wider war in Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw its forces north of the Litani river as stipulated in a 2006 cease-fire agreement.
“I think you’ve all heard what the government of Israel has said, which is that there is a narrow window, but that they prefer a diplomatic solution. I think that is the case,” Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, told journalists after meeting with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and powerful Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
“We are living in a crisis moment where we would like to see a diplomatic solution, and I believe that both sides prefer a diplomatic solution” so the tens of thousands of displaced people on both sides of the border can return home, he said.
Hochstein mediated a landmark deal demarcating Lebanon and Israel’s maritime border in 2022. Before the outbreak of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, he said he hoped to broker a similar deal on the land border — a trickier and more politically fraught topic.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a recent speech signaled an openness to Lebanon reaching an agreement on the land border but said it can only happen after the Israel-Hamas war ends. Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib has said that no deal on a land border demarcation or on Hezbollah’s presence in the border area would be signed before the war ends, but that discussions could start while the conflict continues.
TEL AVIV, Israel — The families of hostages held by militants in the Gaza Strip have gathered along the border with the beleaguered territory to scream messages that they hope will be heard by their captive loved ones.
In stormy weather, dozens of relatives held posters bearing their loved ones’ photos Thursday. They used a microphone and speaker to beam their messages into Gaza.
“Omer, can you hear us? It’s ima and aba,” said Orna Neutra, the mother of Omer, who is being held in Gaza, using the Hebrew words for mom and dad. “We’re here. We’re fighting for you.”
In its Oct. 7 attack, Hamas-led militants captured roughly 250 people. Dozens were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November, but about 110 remain in captivity. Some 20 hostages were killed, several were retrieved by Israel and three were killed mistakenly by Israeli forces fighting in Gaza.
The gathering comes as Israel faces genocide accusations at the world court in The Hague, which it vehemently denies.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A lawyer representing South Africa’s legal team has called the Gaza Strip “a concentration camp where genocide is taking place.”
John Dugard made the remarks while he was laying out a case in front of the International Court of Justice Thursday that South Africa has jurisdiction to take Israel to court over the genocide charge. He was repeating remarks made in 2023 by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The genocide charge strikes at the heart of Israel’s national identity and such comparisons of Israel’s war in Gaza to Nazi concentration camps on a world stage are likely to stir emotions in Israel, which sees itself as a bulwark of security for Jews after 6 million were killed in the Holocaust. International support for Israel’s creation in 1948 was deeply rooted in outrage over Nazi atrocities.
South Africa wants the court to rule that Israel is committing genocide in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel denies the charges, saying it is fighting a war of self-defense following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi is scheduled to give an oral statement Feb. 19 at the International Court of Justice, ministry spokesperson Lalu Muhammad Iqbal said Thursday. She is expected to ask the court to issue an advisory opinion on questions from the United Nations General Assembly regarding the consequences and legal status of Israel’s war in Gaza.
Legally, Indonesia cannot join in the lawsuit because it’s not party to the Genocide Convention, which is the basis of the lawsuit, Iqbal said. However, “morally and politically, Indonesia fully supports South Africa’s legal efforts at the International Court of Justice over Israel’s alleged genocide in Gaza,” he said.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel says 10 companies in the Netherlands refused to publish billboards showing hostages held in Gaza that were meant to go up ahead of the genocide case against Israel. The billboards were set to show posters of people still held by militants with their names, a picture and a line reading: “He can’t testify today.”
Israeli government official Moshik Aviv said the companies’ decision to pull the billboards, which were part of a paid campaign in several areas of the Netherlands, was an attempt to silence the voices of hostages held in the Gaza Strip. Similar posters hung by activists wanting to raise awareness have become flashpoints in cities around the world, with opponents seeing them as Israeli propaganda.
Israel stepped up its messaging ahead of the court hearing at The Hague. It launched a website showing grisly images from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against southern Israel, when roughly killed 1,200 people were killed and some 250 were taken hostage.
Israel vehemently denies the genocide allegations and says it is fighting a war in self-defense.
TEL AVIV, Israel — State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller says accusations that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are unfounded, hours before the International Court of Justice in The Hague begins to hear South Africa’s case against Israel.
Miller said late Wednesday that the court “plays a vital role in the peaceful settlement of disputes,” but he said Israel had the right to defend itself and said it was Israel’s enemies who were calling for the “mass murder of Jews.”
Miller reiterated the United States’ support for Israel in its war while calling for more ways to protect civilians, and for Israel to abide by international humanitarian law. He also condemned inflammatory rhetoric on all sides.
In its court filing, South Africa cited incendiary remarks from Israeli leaders and military officials as an indication of intent to commit genocide.
BEIRUT — A Palestinian journalist who was detained by the Israeli military in Gaza in December described the experience as the “worst 33 days of my life.” Diaa al-Kahlout, a reporter for the Arabic-language Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, said in an interview Thursday with his network that he was detained with around 100 men, including several relatives, who were sheltering in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.
He says the soldiers accused them of being members of Hamas and forced them to strip to their underwear. He says he was questioned about an article he wrote in 2018 about a botched Israeli military operation in Gaza, calling it a “distressing experience.” Those detained included boys as young as 16 and a 77-year-old man apparently suffering from dementia, according to al-Kahlout. He says they were held at the Zikim military base north of Gaza and were forced to sit “on their knees” for the first 25 days.
The Israeli military was looking into the allegation and had no immediate comment.
The Israeli military says it has detained and interrogated hundreds of people it suspects of links to Hamas, which triggered the war in Gaza with its Oct. 7 rampage into Israel. Several detainees have said after their release that they were denied food and water and subjected to beatings and other abuse. The military has denied allegations of mistreatment.