UN’s top court orders Israel to immediately halt Rafah offensive

    ICJ president says the humanitarian situation in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah is now classified as ‘disastrous’.

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    The UN’s top court has ordered Israel to halt its assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah in a ruling that will ratchet up the pressure on the increasingly isolated country.

    The president of the International Court of Justice, Nawaf Salam, said the humanitarian situation in Rafah had deteriorated further and was now classified as “disastrous”, meaning the ICJ’s previously issued provisional measures were insufficient.

    He said the court had voted by a majority of 13 votes to two that “Israel shall, in conformity with its obligations under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, and in view of the worsening conditions of life faced by civilians in Rafah governorate … 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 would bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

    The order by the ICJ is not enforceable, and Israeli ministers indicated that they would not comply with it.

    Israeli forces stepped up military strikes on Gaza, bombing targets in Rafah, even as the ICJ delivered its decision, residents and medics said.

    Friday’s ruling by the ICJ is the court’s third – and by far the most significant – intervention in the conflict and comes four days after the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, a separate court also based in The Hague, said he was seeking arrest warrants for senior Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant.

    The ruling will increase pressure on the UK and the US, which criticised the ICC warrants request, to bring their influence to bear on Israel.

    However, after speaking on the phone with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, Israel’s war cabinet minister, Benny Gantz, a political rival of Netanyahu, said Israel was “obligated to continue fighting to return its hostages and ensure the safety of its citizens, at any time and place – including in Rafah. We will continue to act according to international law in Rafah and wherever we operate, and make an effort to avoid harming the civilian population. Not because of The Hague tribunal, but first of all, because of who we are.”

    In a statement, Netanyahu’s office rejected South Africa’s accusation of genocide as “false, outrageous and disgusting”, adding: “Israel has not and will not carry out a military campaign in the Rafah area that creates living conditions that could lead to the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part.”

    Israel’s far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accused the court of being “antisemitic” and, quoting Israel’s first PM, David Ben-Gurion, said on X: “Our future is not dependent on what the Gentiles will say but rather what the Jews will do!”

    He added that the court’s ruling “should have only one answer – the occupation of Rafah, the increase of military pressure and the crushing of Hamas until the complete victory in the war is achieved”.

    The Palestinian Authority’s presidential spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the ICJ’s decision represented a consensus to end the war on Gaza. Hamas official Basem Naim also welcomed the ruling and urged the UN Security Council to implement it. But the militant group said it did not go far enough and urged an end to Israel’s offensive on all of Gaza.

    The South African official Zane Dangor described it as “groundbreaking” and “de facto calling for a ceasefire”.


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