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ICJ orders Israel to 'immediately halt' Rafah offensive

ICJ orders Israel to 'immediately halt' Rafah offensive
3 min read
The International Court of Justice ordered Israel to 'immediately halt' its offensive on Rafah, open the Rafah Crossing and urge the release of captives.
The International Court of Justice ordered Israel to 'immediately halt' its military operation on Rafah [GETTY]

The top United Nations court on Friday ordered Israel to halt military operations in Rafah, a landmark ruling likely to increase mounting international pressure on Israel more than seven months into the Gaza war.

Israel must "immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part," the International Court of Justice said.

It also ordered Israel to keep open the Rafah crossing into Gaza for the "unhindered" provision of humanitarian aid.

ICJ rulings are legally binding, but the court has no concrete means to enforce them. For example, it ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, to no avail.

Israel had argued before the court that stopping military activity would give free rein to Hamas and prevent its army from rescuing captives taken in the group's 7 October attack.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would convene senior ministers after the ruling.

South Africa hailed the ruling, with Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor saying it was a "much stronger... set of provisional measures, very clear call for a cessation."

The ICJ ruling comes hot on the heels of another highly charged decision Monday by the International Criminal Court prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.

Prosecutor Karim Khan alleged that senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus top Hamas officials, were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the war on Gaza and the 7 October attack.

'Obscene exploitation'

South Africa brought the case before the ICJ last year, alleging that Israel's Gaza offensive breached the 1948 UN Genocide Convention – a charge strongly denied by Israel.

In a ruling on 26 January that made headlines worldwide, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide during its military operation in Gaza.

The ICJ on Friday also ordered Israel to ensure "unimpeded access" to UN-mandated investigators to look into allegations of genocide.

However, South Africa has since returned several times to the ICJ, arguing that the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza compels the court to issue further emergency measures.

In public hearings last week, South Africa's ambassador, Vusimuzi Madonsela, alleged that "Israel's genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage".

"Although the present application was triggered by the unfolding situation in Rafah, Israel's genocidal onslaught across Gaza has intensified over the past few days, also warranting the attention of this court," he said.

South Africa argued the only way to enable humanitarian aid to ease the crisis in Gaza was a full halt to Israel's military operations.

The court will take months, if not years, to rule on the broader South African genocide case, but it can order urgent measures while weighing its decision.

The ICJ described the humanitarian situation as "disastrous" and that Israel's evacuation efforts were insufficient.

Israel retorted during hearings that South Africa's case was an "obscene exploitation of the most sacred convention" and the picture Pretoria paints to the court was "completely divorced from the facts and circumstances."

"It makes a mockery of the heinous charge of genocide," said top Israel lawyer Gilad Noam at hearings.

"Calling something a genocide, again and again, does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true," he added.

Israel also said it was "acutely aware" of the suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip and that it has made "extensive efforts" to increase humanitarian aid flowing.