Netanyahu defiant after UN court ruling as deaths in Gaza continue

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday pushed back after the International Court of Justice ruling to limit death and destruction in the military’s Gaza offensive, declaring that “we decide and act according to what is required for our security.”

Among the first deaths reported since the ruling, witnesses said three Palestinians were killed in an airstrike that Israel said targeted a Hamas commander.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Israel’s military is under increasing scrutiny now that the top United Nations court has asked Israel for a compliance report in a month. The court’s binding ruling on Friday stopped short of ordering a cease-fire, but its orders were in part a rebuke of Israel’s conduct in its nearly four-month war against Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, destroyed vast swaths of Gaza and displaced nearly 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million people. The Hamas attack in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and about 250 hostages were taken.

At least 174 Palestinians were killed over the past day, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its tolls, but has said about two-thirds are women and children.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, saying the militants embed themselves in the local population.

Israel’s military said it had conducted several “targeted raids on terror targets” in the southern city of Khan Younis in addition to the airstrike in nearby Rafah targeting a Hamas commander.

More than 1 million people have crammed into Rafah and the surrounding areas after Israel ordered civilians to seek refuge there. Designated evacuation areas have repeatedly come under airstrikes, with Israel saying it would go after Hamas as needed.

The case brought by South Africa to the UN court alleged Israel is committing genocide against Gaza’s people, which Israel vehemently denies. A final ruling is expected to take years.

The court ordered Israel to urgently get aid to Gaza, where the UN has said aid entering the territory remains well below the daily average of 500 trucks before the war.

The World Health Organization and the medical charity MSF issued urgent warnings about the largest health facility in Khan Younis, Nasser Hospital, saying remaining staff could barely function with supplies running out and intense fighting nearby.

Palestinians mourn over the bodies of their relatives were killed in Israeli bombardments, at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
Palestinians mourn over the bodies of their relatives were killed in Israeli bombardments, at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

WHO footage showed people in the crowded facility being treated on blood-smeared floors as cats scavenged on a mound of medical waste.

Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesperson said in a statement that Nasser Hospital lacked anesthesia and other medicines for intensive deva units and had “dangerous” shortages of blood.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has increasingly called for restraint and for more humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza while still supporting the offensive.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

More mediation lies ahead in search of a deal to secure the release of hostages who remain captive in Gaza. Over 100 were released in a swap for Palestinian prisoners during a week-long cease-fire in November. An unspecified number of the remaining 136 are believed to be dead.

Israelis again on Saturday gathered in Tel Aviv and outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem to call for new elections, frustrated with the government’s failure to bring all hostages home. Israel also was marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, alongside other countries around the world.

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