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Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Jan. 24, 2024.STAFF/Reuters

The International Court of Justice will announce on Friday whether it will impose an emergency order on Israel to require it to take action to prevent a possible genocide in Gaza.

The world court, based in The Hague, has moved swiftly to deliver its ruling just two weeks after it held hearings on the matter, and less than a month after the case was opened.

It says it will hold a public sitting at 1 p.m. local time on Friday, in which the court’s president, Joan Donoghue of the United States, will read the ruling.

The case has sparked political divisions around the world, but South Africa’s legal team has argued that an emergency order is the only way to end the suffering of the people of Gaza in the devastating war that began in October.

In the court’s two days of hearings on the case on Jan. 11 and 12, lawyers for South Africa and Israel argued over whether an urgent interim court order – known as “provisional measures” – should be issued.

South Africa has asked the court to issue an emergency order requiring Israel to prevent “irreparable harm” to Gaza’s people by halting its military offensive in Gaza and lifting its siege of the Palestinian territory. It argues that Israel’s siege and bombing campaign could be a violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention, and it says Israel has a legal obligation under the convention to take steps to prevent a genocide.

Some analysts predict that the court will issue an interim order of some kind on Friday, but it might not order a complete halt in Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Instead it could order greater protections for civilians or expanded humanitarian aid. An order would be considered legally binding, but the court lacks any enforcement mechanism and some countries – such as Russia – have simply ignored its rulings.

The ruling on emergency measures will be decided by a majority of the court’s 17 judges, including two temporary judges who were appointed for this case from South Africa and Israel. The other judges, aside from Ms. Donoghue, are from a range of countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Pacific.

South Africa’s government is sending a high-level delegation to The Hague, led by its international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, to attend the court ruling on Friday.

Dozens of countries have voiced their support for South Africa’s court application. A few, including the United States and Germany, have criticized the case. Several others, including Canada, have not expressed an opinion on the merits of the case but have emphasized that they fully support the court.

This week, 210 lawmakers in the U.S. Congress signed a letter attacking the South African court application.

The South African government, in an 84-page legal brief that it submitted to the court in late December, argued that Israel’s government and military commanders had “genocidal intent” in their siege and bombing campaign in Gaza. The brief included nine pages of examples of rhetoric by Israeli politicians and army officers, including speeches that used terms such as “human animals” and others accusing an “entire nation” of responsibility for the attacks on Israeli communities on Oct. 7.

In the court hearing, South African lawyers presented a video of Israeli soldiers in Gaza waving guns and dancing as they sang: “There are no uninvolved civilians.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the court case by alleging that South Africa is acting as representatives of the Hamas group that committed atrocities in southern Israel. He also declared that the world court cannot stop Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“Nobody will stop us – not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else,” he said in a speech after the court hearings, referring to Iran and its militia allies.

The court case will continue after Friday. The world court must still hear arguments on the full merits of the genocide allegations, but it could take years for a final decision to be made.

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