ICJ orders Israel to halt offensive on Rafah, Gaza in new ruling

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to halt its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and withdraw from the enclave, citing “immense risk” to the Palestinian population.

The world court’s decision on Friday marked the third time this year that the 15-judge panel has issued preliminary orders seeking to rein in the death toll and alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza.

While the court’s orders are legally binding, the court has no police to enforce them.

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

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,” Salam said, and called the humanitarian situation in Rafah “disastrous”.

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

Thirteen of the 15 ICJ judges agreed to call on Israel to halt its assault.

Reporting from The Hague in the Netherlands, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen noted: “[Salam] said 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.”

She added: “That’s why the court has now made a very strong order that Israel should immediately stop its offensive and military operation in Rafah and withdraw its troops from there. He also made a ruling on border crossings, that they must be reopened as soon as possible to get humanitarian aid in.”

She said the court also stressed that observers from the United Nations have to get access as soon as possible to make sure that no evidence of any possible war crimes disappear from the region.

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

Israel launched its assault on the southern city of Rafah this month, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee a city that had become a refuge to about half of Gaza’s 2,3 million people.

Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge, has also been the main route in for aid, and international organisations say the Israeli operation has cut off the enclave and raised the risk of famine.

The Palestinian Authority has welcomed the court’s decision, saying it represents an international consensus to end the war on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina was quoted as saying.

Shortly after the ruling, Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said on the social media platform X that “the State of Israel is at war for its existence.”

“Those who demand that the State of Israel stop the war, demand that it decree itself to cease to exist. We will not agree to that,” he said.

“We continue to fight for ourselves and for the entire free world. History will judge who today stood by the Nazis of Hamas and ISIS [ISIL],” he added.

According to war crimes prosecutor Reed Brody, the ICJ has stepped up to confront the reality in the Gaza Strip.

“I’m really impressed, first of all by South Africa’s tenacity and perseverance and coming back to the court. And the court has responded almost unanimously,” he told Al Jazeera.

Brody noted that South Africa has been asking for an order for Israel to stop its military offensive since the start of the war on Gaza, with the court saying it cannot make a move because Hamas and the Palestinian side are not present on the stand.

The ICJ is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states. Its rulings are final and binding, but have been ignored in the past.
In a highly charged ruling in January, the court ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza, but stopped short of ordering a halt in the fighting.

Israel has repeatedly dismissed the case’s accusations of genocide as baseless, arguing in court that its operations in Gaza are self-defence and targeted at Hamas fighters who attacked Israel on 7 October.

Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –
Subscribe Now!

Latest News