International Court of Justice orders Israel to halt offensive on Rafah

Israel is unlikely to comply with the order, but the ruling is likely to increase international pressure on PM Benjamin Netanyahu

File photo of a family on a horse-drawn cart with an injured child in Rafah
File photo of a family on a horse-drawn cart with an injured child in Rafah

NH Digital

In a landmark ruling, judges at the International Court of Justice have ordered Israel to halt its offensive in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, and withdraw from the enclave, in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, citing “immense risk” to the Palestinian population, as reported by media agencies.

Friday’s decision marks the third time this year that the 15-judge ICJ panel has issued preliminary orders seeking to reduce the death toll and alleviate people's suffering in Gaza. However, while the orders are legally binding, the court has no police to enforce them.

According to an NBC News report, Israel is unlikely to comply with the order given the ICJ's inability to enforce it, but the ruling is likely to increase international pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his more hawkish cabinet colleagues.

Reading out the ICJ ruling, the body’s president Nawaf Salam said provisional measures ordered by the court in March did not fully address the current situation in the Palestinian enclave, and "conditions had been met for a new emergency order".

An Al Jazeera report quoted Salam as saying 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”, terming the humanitarian situation in Rafah “disastrous”.

Last week, South Africa’s lawyers had asked the ICJ, based in The Hague, Netherlands, to impose emergency measures, saying Israel’s attacks on Rafah must be stopped to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people.

Reporting from The Hague, the Al Jazeera correspondent quoted the principal judge as saying that “800,000 are displaced, and that he doesn’t believe Israel’s word that they are provided safety and humanitarian access. He said there was no evidence of that”.

The correspondent also reported that the court had ruled that border crossings must be reopened as soon as possible to allow humanitarian aid to get in, and United Nations observers must be granted immediate access to the area to make sure that no evidence of any possible war crimes can disappear.

The ICJ has also ordered Israel to report back within one month over its progress in applying the measures ordered by the court.

Unsurprisingly, Israel has indicated that it will not accept the court order to end the war against Hamas. Netanyahu was meeting with legal advisors to review the ruling shortly after it was issued, an Israeli official told NBC News.

In a post on X, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid has criticised the ruling, saying the court had failed to make a connection between the fighting in Rafah and the return of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas when the latter launched a series of ground and drone attacks in southern Israel on 7 October 2023.

Hamas, meanwhile, has welcomed the decision, saying it expects the ICJ to issue a similar ruling for the entire Gaza Strip, and not just Rafah.

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