World Court Orders Israel to Halt Assault on Gaza’s Rafah

International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
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THE HAGUE,– Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top United Nations court, have ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. This landmark emergency ruling comes as part of a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

Reading the ruling, ICJ President Nawaf Salam stated that conditions in the Palestinian enclave had deteriorated since the court’s last intervention, necessitating the new emergency order.

“The state of Israel shall 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 declared.

The court also mandated Israel to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow humanitarian aid and to provide access for investigators. Israel must report back on its compliance within one month.

The ruling was adopted by a 13-2 vote from the panel of 15 international judges, with opposition only from judges from Uganda and Israel. It follows South Africa’s request last week as part of a broader case accusing Israel of orchestrating genocide against the Palestinian people.

Outside the court, a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators waved flags and called for a free Palestine.

Israel has consistently dismissed the genocide accusations as baseless, arguing that its operations in Gaza are self-defense measures targeting Hamas militants. An Israeli government spokesman, speaking on the eve of the ruling, insisted that “no power on Earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza.”

The assault on Rafah, launched by Israel earlier this month, has forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee the city, which had become a refuge for nearly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population. The operation has cut off aid routes, raising the risk of famine, according to international organizations.

South Africa’s legal team argued that Israel’s actions in Rafah threaten the survival of the Palestinian people, urging the ICJ to impose emergency measures.

This decision adds to the diplomatic pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. On Monday, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), another court based in The Hague, announced applications for arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders, accusing them of crimes including extermination and using hunger as a weapon. Israel has strongly denied these charges.

While the ICJ has yet to rule on the broader accusation of genocide, which could take years, this ruling underscores the court’s demand for Israel to prevent acts of genocide and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel’s military campaign began in response to an attack by Hamas-led militants on Israeli communities, resulting in significant casualties on both sides.

The ICJ’s rulings are final and binding, although enforcement remains a challenge. – Reuters