Israel strikes Gaza as ICC ruling due

An armed Palestinian militant leads the way as mourners carry a body during a group funeral of people killed in a raid by Israeli forces, in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank on May 23, 2024. [AFP]

Israeli forces struck the Gaza Strip on Friday, as the UN's top court was due to rule on a plea to halt the military offensive over accusations of "genocide".

Witnesses and AFP correspondents reported overnight air and naval strikes on Gaza City and gunfire to its south, with several casualties reported in two separate raids on residential blocks in the city's north and centre.

In northern Gaza's Jabalia area, where urban combat has flared again months after the start of the Israeli operations there, the military said the bodies of three hostages had been retrieved in an operation during the night.

A local source earlier reported helicopters firing at the Jabalia refugee camp and renewed artillery shelling in the area.

The military said the bodies of Israeli hostage Chanan Yablonka, Brazilian-Israeli Michel Nisenbaum and French-Mexican Orion Hernandez Radoux had been "rescued" and their families had been notified after forensic identification.

They were all "murdered" during the October 7 attack that sparked the war and taken into Gaza, the army said.

It follows the recovery last week of four bodies of hostages found in tunnels under Jabalia.

The military earlier reported targeted raids in Jabalia and ongoing activity in central Gaza.

Israel in early May launched an assault on Rafah, the last Gazan city to be entered by its ground troops, defying global opposition and sending more than 800,000 people fleeing, according to UN figures.

In a statement Friday, the Israeli army said its "troops are continuing operations against terror targets" in the southern city, where they had "destroyed weapon storage facilities" and tunnel shafts.

A local Palestinian source said military vehicles were advancing from eastern Rafah towards the city centre.

ICJ ruling on ceasefire 

Doctor Mohammad Saleh, the acting director of Al-Awda hospital -- one of only two hospitals still functioning in northern Gaza according to the UN -- said it had been under Israeli siege for five consecutive days.

"Soldiers are present in the hospital's courtyard and in nearby houses," he said, adding there was "continuous gunfire and shelling" towards it.

As the hostilities continued, the International Court of Justice is set to rule Friday on a plea to halt the Israeli military offensive in Gaza over accusations of "genocide".

The ICJ, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in an interim ruling in January but instructed Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza.

South Africa, which filed the case later formally supported by Israel-Hamas mediator Egypt, argued the ongoing Israeli operation in Rafah should compel the UN court to issue fresh emergency orders.

The case, which Israel says should be dismissed, could add to mounting international pressure for a truce and hostage release more than seven months into the war.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor sought arrest warrants on war crimes charges against Netanyahu and his defence minister as well as three Hamas leaders.

In a blow to Israeli diplomacy, three European countries said Wednesday they would recognise a Palestinian state next Tuesday.

In response on Friday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he had decided to "sever the connection between Spain's representation in Israel and the Palestinians, and to prohibit the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from providing services to Palestinians from the West Bank", a territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

It was not immediately clear how Israel would carry out the threat.

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