ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the war on Gaza after the nation was ordered to contain death and damage in its military offensive.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) stopped short on Friday of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza in a genocide case filed by South Africa, but Israel was ordered to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide. 

Netanyahu has said Israel will "continue to do what is necessary" to defend itself as he called the genocide claims "outrageous".

“We will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people,” he said.

The case goes to the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, and South Africa had asked the court to order Israel to halt its operation.

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In the highly-anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges, the ICJ decided not to throw out the case and ordered six so-called provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel must ensure its forces do not commit genocide and ensure preservation of evidence of alleged genocide, the court said, and must take measures to prevent and punish direct incitement of genocide in the Gaza Strip. 

Israel was also told to take immediate, effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip.

“The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering,” Joan Donoghue, the court’s president, said.

Friday’s decision is only an interim one; it could take years for the full case brought by South Africa to be considered.

Israel rejects the genocide accusation and had asked the court to throw the charges out.

While the case winds its way through the court, South Africa had asked the judges “as a matter of extreme urgency” to impose provisional measures.

Top of the South African list was a request for the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”, but the court declined to do that.

South Africa also asked for Israel to take “reasonable measures” to prevent genocide and allow access for desperately needed aid.

The court ruled that Israel must try to limit death and damage.

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South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor says she would have wanted to hear the ICJ order a “ceasefire” for Israel’s war on Gaza, but believes the provisions the court listed can only lead to one.

In a statement on Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he hoped the decision would “include immediate action to stop the aggression and genocide against our people in the Gaza Strip and a rapid flow of relief aid to save the hungry, wounded and sick from the threat of slow death that threatens them”.

On Thursday, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy had said that Israel expected the court to throw out the “spurious and specious charges”.

Israel often boycotts international tribunals and UN investigations, saying they are unfair and biased.

But this time, it took the rare step of sending a high-level legal team – a sign of how seriously it regards the case and likely the fear that any court order to halt operations would be a major blow to the country’s international standing.

An Israeli official said that Netanyahu had huddled with top legal, diplomatic and security officials on Thursday in anticipation of the ruling.

He said Israel was confident in its case but discussed “all scenarios”.