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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to soldiers as he visits the northern Gaza Strip on Dec. 25, 2023. (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO via AP, File)

Israel has said South Africa has distorted the truth in its case at the International Court of Justice, where it is accusing Israel of genocide.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to soldiers as he visits the northern Gaza Strip on Dec. 25, 2023. (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO via AP, File)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to soldiers as he visits the northern Gaza Strip on Dec. 25, 2023. (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO via AP, File)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to soldiers as he visits the northern Gaza Strip on Dec. 25, 2023. (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO via AP, File)

Israel has said South Africa has distorted the truth in its case at the International Court of Justice, where it is accusing Israel of genocide.

South Africa had presented "a sweeping counter-factual description" of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Israeli lawyer Tal Becker told the ICJ.

South Africa says Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in its war in Gaza.

It is also asking the court to order Israel to halt its military activity.

The ICJ is the United Nations' highest court. Its rulings are theoretically legally binding on parties to the ICJ - which include Israel and South Africa - but are not enforceable.

Israel delivered its defence to the court a day after South Africa presented its case.

Outside the legal battleground of the ICJ, police created cordons to ensure rival groups were kept far apart.

On one side, Palestinian flags were waved beneath a big screen streaming a live feed from the courtroom. Banners were unfurled showing images of Nelson Mandela, referencing parallels drawn by South Africa's legal team between the situation in Gaza and the former apartheid era in South Africa.

A few hundred metres away, a symbolic Sabbath table had been laid. Photographs were attached to the back of empty chairs. These show some of the more than 130 Israelis who are still being held hostage by Hamas, which is banned as a terrorist group in the US, UK, EU and elsewhere.

South Africa asserts that Israel is in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both states are signatories, and which commits parties to prevent genocide from happening.

Israel has been waging a war against Hamas, Gaza's ruling group, since 7 October, when hundreds of Hamas gunmen invaded Israel, killing about 1,300 people and taking some 240 others back to Gaza as hostages. Members of the hostages' families were in the ICJ courtroom to hear Israel state its case.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 23,350 people - mostly women and children - have been killed by Israel in the war.

In his opening remarks on Friday, Tal Becker told the court that while the civilian suffering was "tragic", Hamas sought "to maximise civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians, even as Israel seeks to minimise it".

South Africa, he said, "has regrettably put before the court a profoundly distorted factual and legal picture, [and] the entirety of its case hinges on a deliberately curated, decontextualised and manipulative description of the reality of current hostilities".

Mr Becker accused South Africa of making "an attempt to weaponise the term genocide against Israel".

He said South Africa was also seeking "to thwart Israel's inherent right to defend itself" by trying to get the court to order Israel to stop its military operation against Hamas.

Source: BBC By Raffi Berg in London & Anna Holligan

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