Rishi Sunak condemns ‘horrific irony’ of Israel genocide ruling

Palestinians flee Khan Yunis as an Israeli tank rolls in
Palestinians flee Khan Younis as an Israeli tank rolls in - AFP via Getty Images
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Rishi Sunak condemned the “horrific irony” of the UN’s top court ruling that Israel must act to prevent genocide in Gaza.

No 10 said the legal case aimed at stopping the war and accusing Israel of war crimes at the International Court of Justice was “completely unjustified”.

On Friday, in a landmark hearing, judges at the UN-run ICJ said Israel must now face trial over possible genocide, but stopped short of issuing an order for them to stop the war in Gaza.

Its panel of 17 judges demanded Israel take measures to “prevent and punish” any acts of genocide in the enclave and provide more basic services and humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The ruling and upcoming trial is likely to put further pressure on Western backers of Israel and arms suppliers.

Air raid sirens were sounded over Israel shortly after the judgment was handed down by the Hague-based court, where South African lawyers bringing the case cheered in celebration.

Hamas also hailed the ICJ’s ruling, saying it would isolate Israel and expose its crimes in Gaza. Turkey and Spain also backed the court, while major Western allies remained silent.

Asked for comment on the case, Downing Street referred The Telegraph to a speech Mr Sunak gave to Conservative Friends of Israel on Monday.

He said: “Anyone - or any organisation - that cannot unequivocally condemn the evil that Hamas did that day has no conscience, no morality, no decency and deserves no respect.

“I also reject any attempt to draw an equivalence between Israel’s actions and those of the terrorists who videotape their appalling crimes, who rape and murder with gratuitous zealotry.

“That is why this government has condemned the completely unjustified case that South Africa has brought to the International Court of Justice.

“There is a horrific irony in Israel, of all countries, being accused of genocide.”

The ICJ judgment was issued as the UN said it had sacked several members of staff in Gaza for allegedly taking part in the October 7 Hamas attacks.

The UN said it had received information from Israel about the alleged involvement of some of its workers in last year’s incursion in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 people taken hostage.

“I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of a Palestinian refugees UN agency, said on Friday.

The US State Department said it was extremely troubled by the allegations, which it said pertained to 12 employees. It said it would provide no additional funding to the agency until the allegations were addressed.

The US and the West are also increasing pressure on Israel to end its war in Gaza. Joe Biden has told Mr Netanyahu to finish the conflict before the US elections, according to US media reports.

The legal case on Friday was the initial ruling of a legal challenge launched by South Africa that alleges Israel is in breach of the UN’s Genocide Convention over the war.

A 17-judge panel also ruled that Israel must allow more aid to flow into the coastal territory, amid significantly deteriorating humanitarian conditions there.

Judge Donoghue’s ruling was the initial step following a legal challenge by South Africa that accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

“The court is not required to ascertain whether any violations of Israel’s obligations under the Genocide Convention have occurred,” she told a packed courtroom. “That will happen at a later stage of the process.”

While the ICJ has no means to enforce its ruling, the legal case will be used to build pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to end the conflict.

In her ruling, Judge Donoghue quoted a senior UN official who recently claimed: “Gaza has become a place of death and despair.”

Israel has vehemently denied allegations of genocide throughout its military campaign in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 terror attack, during which 1,200 were killed and 240 taken hostage.

Mr Netanyahu said the accusations were “not only false, it’s outrageous and decent people everywhere should reject it”.

In her 50-minute address to the court, Judge Donoghue quoted statements from Israeli leaders used by South Africa’s legal team to prove Israel’s alleged genocidal intentions.

She first cited Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister, who told troops in the opening days of the conflict: “We are fighting human animals.”

Claims by Israel Katz, who is now foreign minister, that water and energy supplies to Gaza would be shut off until the end of the conflict were also used.

The American judge said the statements were “sufficient to conclude that at least some of the rights claimed by South Africa and for which it is seeking protection are plausible”.

She also cited claims by Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health department that more than 25,000 people had been killed in the territory since the start of the war.

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