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The ICJ has ordered Israel to stop its Rafah offensive

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The UN's highest court, the International Court of Justice, has ordered Israel to halt its military offensive in Rafah, southern Gaza.
The UN's highest court, the International Court of Justice, has ordered Israel to halt its military offensive in Rafah, southern Gaza.

The highest court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), has ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah”, in southern Gaza.

More than 800,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee parts of Rafah in recent weeks, as Israel strikes the area. The ICJ said the humanitarian situation in Rafah should now be categorised as “disastrous”.

In response, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “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.”

Background

On 7 October, Hamas launched an attack on Israel. According to data cited by the UN, roughly 1,200 people were killed.

Hamas, which Australia lists as a terrorist organisation, captured about 240 hostages. 125 remain captive.

Israel responded by declaring war and bombarding Gaza. According to data cited by the UN, more than 35,800 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October. Israel’s war in Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis.

Rafah

At the start of Israel’s war in Gaza, the military’s focus was on the north of the territory. It caused civilians to flee to southern areas of Gaza, including Rafah.

Israel’s military has since moved south and started launching strikes on the area. An estimated 1.5 million people were sheltering in Rafah.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator, Martin Griffiths, has said 800,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee the area since Israel’s military started attacking parts of Rafah, causing “a tragedy beyond words”.

ICJ

In December, South Africa brought a case under the UN’s Genocide Convention. It accused Israel of committing and failing to prevent genocide in its war in Gaza.

Within a month, the court handed down a “provisional ruling”. It had asked for Israel to take steps to prevent “genocidal acts”.

South Africa has since asked the court to make an emergency ruling to order Israel to stop its military offensive in Rafah after Israeli forces entered the city.

It also said: “The level of destruction that Israel has caused across Gaza and is now wreaking on Rafah threatens the very survival of future Palestinian generations in Gaza.”

South Africa argued Israel now controls two key border crossings into Rafah. It said humanitarian aid has been cut off into the area, which Israel denies.

New ruling

The ICJ said it was making the judgment today because the situation in Rafah had materially changed since its initial ruling in January due to the military actions of Israel.

It added it was not convinced Israel was taking “sufficient” measures to prevent unnecessary harm to civilians in Rafah.

In a 13-2 ruling, the judges ordered Israel to “halt its military offensive” in Rafah and open up the border crossing between Egypt and Rafah for humanitarian aid to flow into the city.

The ICJ has asked Israel to provide an update on how it is enacting these measures within a month.

Israel response

Following the ruling, Israel’s foreign ministry said: “Israel is acting based on its right to defend its territory and its citizens, consistent with its moral values and in compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law”.

It added Israel will “enable the Rafah crossing to remain open for the entry of humanitarian assistance”, but vowed to keep it out of the control of “terror groups”. Overnight, the IDF recovered the bodies of three hostages. An IDF spokesperson said they were killed by Hamas during the 7 October attack.

What now?

The ICJ has called on Israel to comply with its ruling. Shortly after, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN said it “expects that resolutions of the ICJ be implemented without hesitation”.

However, the ICJ does not have powers of enforcement. It can ask the UN Security Council to take further action.

Of the 15 members of the Security Council, the five permanent members – the UK, France, Russia, China, and the U.S. – have the power to veto (strike down) a motion.

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