Thousands of civilians were trapped in southern Gaza by bombardment and fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters on Saturday, a day after the top UN court ruled that Israel must prevent genocidal acts.

Growing alarm has been focused on Khan Younes, the biggest city in Gaza’s south, where the two main hospitals were barely functioning under the weight of the relentless bombardment and the press of thousands in need.

Witnesses reported more overnight strikes on Khan Younes, the current epicenter of Israel’s assault on Gaza, and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said some of the dead and wounded had been taken to the city’s barely functioning Al-Amal hospital.

The strikes came after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in its war against Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

The court, which has virtually no enforcement power, stopped short of calling for an end to the fighting but also said in its ruling that Israel must facilitate “urgently needed” humanitarian assistance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the case as “outrageous.”

Protests at the US Consulate in Johannesburg after the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the Israel-South Africa case, January 26, 2024. (Davide Longari, AFP)

Hospital Services ‘Collapse’

Fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters has raged for days around Khan Younes, forcing tens of thousands to flee further south to Rafah on the border with Egypt.

With a humanitarian crisis growing in Khan Younes and the northern areas of Gaza, UN agencies say most of the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians displaced by the war are crowded into Rafah.

At Khan Younes’ Nasser Hospital, the largest in the besieged city, Doctors Without Borders said surgical capacity was “virtually non-existent.”

The international medical aid organization said in a news release that medical services at the hospital had “collapsed” and the few staff who remained “must contend with very low supplies that are insufficient to handle mass casualty events.”

The World Health Organization’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on social media platform X that 350 patients and 5,000 people displaced by the fighting remained at the hospital and that fighting in the vicinity continued.

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, on January 25, 2024. (AFP)

He said the Nasser Hospital was “running out of food, fuel, and supplies” and called for an immediate ceasefire so they could be replenished.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli tanks were targeting Al-Amal Hospital, another of the few remaining medical facilities in Khan Younes, and that it was “under siege with heavy gunfire.”

The Israeli military accuses Hamas of having tunnels under hospitals in Gaza and of using the medical facilities as command centers.

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, accused the WHO this week of collusion with Hamas by ignoring Israeli evidence of Hamas’ “military use” of Gaza hospitals.

Tedros rejected the accusation, saying it could “endanger our staff, who are risking their lives to serve the vulnerable.”

Diplomatic Relations Sour

The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the ICJ’s ruling, the council’s presidency announced.

The European Union called for the “immediate” application of the ICJ’s decision.

The ruling in The Hague was based on an urgent application brought by South Africa, a long-time supporter of the Palestinian cause, but a broader judgment on whether genocide has been committed could take years.

A security source told AFP on Friday that the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency will meet officials from Israel, Egypt, and Qatar “in the coming days in Paris” to try to reach a deal with Hamas.

A week-long truce in November saw an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners. However, the White House warned that “imminent developments” are unlikely.

The war has led to fears of wider conflict, and US forces said they had struck a target in Houthi-held Yemen after an attack on a British tanker in the Gulf of Aden.

With AFP