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Watch in full: First day of ICJ hearing on South Africa's genocide case against Israel

UN's top court hears South Africa's case for an emergency order to stop Israeli military action in Gaza

The International Court of Justice, the United Nations' highest judicial body, began hearing arguments from South Africa at The Hague on Thursday accusing Israel of committing genocide in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Pretoria is asking the court to act urgently "to protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the genocide convention, which continues to be violated with impunity".

South Africa filed the lawsuit at the end of December, citing statements made by Israeli public officials and the actions of its military, and wants an emergency order calling on Israel to suspend its military campaign.

More than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing war on Gaza, including more than 9,000 children.

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In an 84-page application submitted to the ICJ on 29 December, South Africa said Israel's actions in Gaza were "genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group".

Israel has rejected the filing, calling it "blood libel" -  a reference to antisemitic lies that originated in the Middle Ages, which claimed that Jews murdered Christian boys to use their blood for religious rituals.

It is the first time Israel is being tried under the United Nations’ Genocide Convention, which was drawn up after the Second World War in light of the atrocities committed against Jews and other persecuted minorities during the Holocaust.

The ICJ is the UN's highest court. Established in 1945, it deals with disputes between countries and provides advisory opinions. It has 15 judges who are elected for nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and Security Council.

The court can be expanded with the addition of a judge from each side of the case, in this case South Africa and Israel. 

The current judges at the ICJ are from the United States, Russia, China, Slovakia, Morocco, Lebanon, India, France, Somalia, Jamaica, Japan, Germany, Australia, Uganda and Brazil.

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