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International Court of Justice orders that Israel immediately halt its offensive on city of Rafah

The ICJ made the ruling on an emergency request by South Africa for Israel to end its offensive on Rafah.


THE INTERNATIONAL COURT of Justice has ordered Israel to halt its offensive on the Gaza city of Rafah, a landmark ruling likely to increase mounting international pressure on Israel more than seven months into the Gaza war.

The move has been welcomed by Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who said the “orders are crystal clear” and “must be complied with”.

Martin added that it is his “heartfelt hope that we are reaching a turning point in this devastating conflict” and called for all parties to “intensify efforts to secure an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of hostages and massively scaled-up access and distribution of humanitarian aid”. 

He also said it is “time to take concrete and irreversible steps to implement a two-state solution”.

The International Court of Justice today said that 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”.

However, Israel today said its military operations in Rafah do not “risk the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population”.

“Israel has not and will not conduct military actions in the Rafah area which may inflict on the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a joint statement with the foreign ministry spokesman.

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.

The ICJ made the ruling on an emergency request by South Africa.

The court has also said Israel must keep the Rafah crossing open for ‘unhindered’ aid to access the region, and to ensure access to Gaza for investigators and fact-finding missions.

The Israeli statement following the court’s ruling today added: ”Israel will continue to enable the Rafah crossing to remain open for the entry of humanitarian assistance from the Egyptian side of the border, and will prevent terror groups from controlling the passage.”

The ICJ also ordered Israel to report to the court within a month on its progress in implementing the measures.

As he gave the court’s ruling, Nawaf Salam, the president of the ICJ said the humanitarian situation in Rafah had changed since the court’s last ruling and is now classified as “disastrous”.

Salam said:

Israel must immediately hold its military offensive of 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 top United Nations court also called for the immediate release of hostages taken by Hamas in its 7 October assault on Israel.

“The court finds it deeply troubling that many of these hostages remain in captivity and reiterates its call for their immediate and unconditional release,” the court said.

In a statement today, Doctors Without Borders said the ICJ’s decision is “another confirmation of how catastrophic the situation is and of the desperate need for humanitarian aid to be scaled up immediately”.

Meanwhile, Action Aid Ireland warned that Rafah is “on the verge of total collapse” and called on the Israeli government to “respect the ICJ and comply with its ruling”.

Emergency request

South Africa brought the initial 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.

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

The court did so in March, ordering new measures compelling Israel to ensure the “unhindered provision at scale” of humanitarian aid.

In its latest emergency request, South Africa said Israel’s military incursion in Rafah threatened the “very survival of Palestinians in Gaza” and made an emergency request to the court that it orders an end to the offensive.

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”.

South Africa argued the only way to enable humanitarian aid in 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.

Israel retorted 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.”

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.

US President Joe Biden said this week that “what’s happening is not genocide.”

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on 7 October resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

With reporting from Press Association and AFP

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