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US stresses need to consider Israel's security at top UN court

Published 21/02/2024, 01:02
Updated 21/02/2024, 15:46
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024

THE HAGUE (Reuters) -The United States said on Wednesday the World Court should not order the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian territories as it considers a request for its opinion on the legality of the occupation.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top U.N. court which is also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the U.N. General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

While the court was not asked to issue an opinion about the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories, many states participating in the hearings have called on Israel to do so.

Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court's involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement.

"Any movement towards Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration for Israel's very real security needs," Richard Visek, acting legal adviser at the U.S. State Department, told the court in The Hague.

"We were all reminded of those security needs on October 7, and they persist. Regrettably those needs have been ignored by many of the participants" in the court's hearings.

More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26.

Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands, Vladimir Tarabrin, called on Israel to end the occupation and abide by United National Security Council resolutions aimed at achieving a two-state solution.

DEEPLY-ROOTED GRIEVANCES

"Israel is under an international legal obligation to respect the rights of the Palestinian people to self determination, and to stop all settlement activities in the occupied territory."

On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel's occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.

The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts towards finding a path to peace.

The ICJ's 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel's "occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures".

The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.

Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel's separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.

The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel's war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw//File Photo

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state - in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighbouring Egypt, still controls its borders.

Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine.

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