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

Sat 25 May 2024    
The Brew News Team | 4 min read

Judges at the United Nations’ top court ordered Israel to cease its offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city, and withdraw from the area, in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, citing “immense risk” to the Palestinian population.

The decision, which took place on Friday, is the third instance this year where the 15-judge panel has issued preliminary orders to reduce the death toll and alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. Although these orders are legally binding, the court lacks enforcement from the police.

Reading a ruling by the International Court of Justice or World Court, President Nawaf Salam stated that the provisional measures ordered by the court in March were insufficient in addressing the ongoing situation in the besieged Palestinian area now, necessitating a new emergency order.

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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 urged the ICJ in The Hague last week to impose emergency measures, saying Israel must halt their attacks on Rafah in order to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people.

Reporters from agencies present at The Hague stated that 13 of the 15 ICJ judges agreed to call on Israel to stop its assault.

“[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,” reporters noted.

“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,” reporters added.

Reporters said that the judge also emphasized the need for UN observers to gain access as soon as possible to ensure that no evidence of any potential war crimes disappear from the region.

The ICJ has also mandated that Israel report back to the court within a month over its progress in implementing measures ordered by the institution.

Israel began its assault on the southern city of Rafah this month, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in a city that had become a refuge for about half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people.

Rafah, located on Gaza’s southern border, has also been the crucial route for aid, and international organizations warn that Israeli operation has isolated the enclave, increasing the risk of famine.

Reporters from agencies situated in central Gaza, noted that people in the Gaza strip have yet to react to the ICJ ruling, likely due to a lack of internet access.

“People here in the Gaza Strip are currently trying to feed themselves … after being constantly displaced. So people are not very well aware of what’s going on. They’re asking journalists … if there is anything positive,” reporters said.

Reporters added that as journalists in Gaza, they do not wish to give people in the region false hope and are awaiting more details on how the ICJ’s ruling will be implemented in Rafah, where the situation remains tense.

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ICJ’s decision on Friday from the International Court of Justice, interpreting it as an international consensus to end the war on the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, speaking to news agencies.

Following the ruling, Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, stated 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.

Reporters stationed in Amman, Jordan, said that diplomatic sources have told Israel’s Channel 13 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to convene an emergency meeting.

“Foreign Minister Israel Katz, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz and the government’s judicial adviser will be in the meeting. This is how seriously they are taking this ruling,” a reporter said.

“We are hearing from political sources speaking to local media that Israel will not respond to the decision of the court, both politically or militarily,” he added.

War crimes prosecutor Reed Brody remarked that the ICJ has addressed the harsh realities 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 agencies.

Brody highlighted that South Africa has been asking for an order for Israel to stop its military offensive since the war on Gaza began, with the court saying it’s unable to act due to Hamas and the Palestinian side not being present on the stand.

“But that’s what they have finally chosen to do here and it’s a testament to this court and what it does,” he said.

“Together with the decision by the ICC prosecutor [to recommend arrest warrants against top Israeli officials], it is a real one-two legal punch.”

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the highest UN body for resolving disputes between states. Its rulings are final and binding, but have been ignored in the past. In a ruling in January, the court ordered Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza but stopped short of ordering a cease in the attack.

Israel has consistently denied the case’s genocide accusations, calling it baseless, and arguing in court that its operations in Gaza are self-defense and targeted against Hamas fighters who attacked Israel on October 7.

Agency: Al Jazeera

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