Netanyahu rejects claims accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza

Netanyahu rejects claims accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday pushed back against claims that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, calling such accusations “false” after South Africa filed a case against Israel at the U.N.’s top court.

“I would like to say a word about South Africa’s false accusation that Israel is committing genocide. No, South Africa, it is not we who have come to perpetrate genocide, it is Hamas,” Netanyahu said during a Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, according to an English translation reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“Hamas would kill us all if it only could,” Netanyahu added, referring to the Palestinian militant group that Israel has vowed to eliminate following its Oct. 7 surprise attack.

Netanyahu’s remarks were in response to South Africa’s launching a case at the U.N.’s International Court of Justice last week that accuses Israel of carrying out genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Netanyahu argued that Israel’s military is “acting as morally as possible” and doing “everything to avoid harming civilians” as it wages an offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

More than 21,500 Palestinians, including many women and children, have been killed since October, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

The Biden administration has strongly supported Israel following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, but in recent weeks U.S. officials have upped their calls for Israel to be more mindful of protecting civilian lives in the coastal enclave.

Several White House officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Defense Secretary Llyod Austin and Gen. CQ Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Israel earlier this month, where they encouraged the country to transition to a “lower-intensity” phase of the war.

“We also have some great thoughts about how to transition from high-intensity operations to lower-intensity and more surgical operations,” Austin said earlier this month in Tel Aviv. 

President Biden earlier this month indicated a shift in tone while publicly criticizing Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza as “indiscriminate,” and later suggested he doesn’t agree with some of Netanyahu’s viewpoints.

Leaders of the two allied countries have also shared disagreement over the potential role of the Palestinian Authority in governing a post-war Gaza, with Netanyahu largely rejecting the leadership prospect.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is part of a campaign to eliminate Hamas following the militant group’s attack that killed about 1,200 people in Israel.

“Hamas does everything to get [civilians] harmed, using them as a human shield,” Netanyahu said in his remarks Sunday.

Israeli military leaders have long argued Hamas is using civilians as shields against Israel’s fire, including by positioning themselves in and around civilian sites such as hospitals, refugee camps and places of worship.

In its submission to the International Court of Justice last week, South Africa asked The Hague-based court to issue an interim order for Israel to stop its attacks in Gaza.

South Africa alleges the “acts and omissions by Israel … are genocidal in character” with the intent “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza” as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group, The Associated Press reported.

Netanyahu dug into South Africa on Sunday, dismissing claims of genocide as “nonsense, lies and evil spirit.” He reiterated Israel’s plan to move forward with its offensive, telling Cabinet members, “We will continue our war of defense, which is the most just and moral.”

Netanyahu a day earlier indicated he is not letting up on Israel’s pledge to destroy Hamas, warning of “many more months of war” ahead during a press conference.

Israel has largely rejected international calls for a cease-fire from other global leaders, arguing a truce in fighting would help Hamas.

Updated: 6:54 p.m.

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