UN’s Top Court Orders Israel to Halt Rafah Assault; Israel Rejects

UN's Top Court Orders Israel to Halt Rafah Assault; Israel Rejects

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The court’s decision, read by Judge Nawaf Salam, was in response to an urgent application by South Africa, which argued that previous measures regarding the Gaza war were insufficient.

Israeli officials promptly rejected the ruling. In a joint statement, the head of the National Security Council and the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The charges of genocide brought by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice in the Hague are false, outrageous and morally repugnant.” They asserted that Israel’s actions were defensive, just, and in compliance with international law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly discussing the decision with key Cabinet ministers. South Africa has previously sought measures against Israel in summary proceedings, as part of a genocide lawsuit filed in December. In two emergency rulings, the UN judges had obliged Israel to prevent genocide and allow humanitarian aid.

The Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement welcomed the ruling, calling on the international community and the United Nations to pressure Israel. A Hamas politburo member emphasized that international pressure was necessary for the decision to have an effect. Egypt and Jordan also welcomed the ICJ’s ruling and urged the UN Security Council to pressure Israel.

The Palestinian Authority called for increased international pressure on Israel following the ICJ decision. In a statement, it said the court’s decision confirmed the view that Israel was committing war crimes. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) also welcomed the decision, with President Cyril Ramaphosa stating, “We will not be completely free until the people of Palestine are free.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ICJ decisions were “binding” and he trusted the parties would comply. His spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said the Secretary-General would promptly transmit the court’s order to the Security Council. While the ICJ’s rulings are binding, it has no means of enforcement and can only call on the Security Council to act.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, on Friday. Spokesman Matthew Miller said they discussed ceasefire efforts and the need to reopen the Rafah border crossing. Blinken also stressed the urgent need to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in Gaza and de-escalate the situation in the West Bank.

The conflict began when Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people in Israel on October 7. Israel responded with a devastating aerial and ground campaign that, according to Hamas-run health authorities, has killed over 35,000 people in Gaza. Israel vowed to continue its operations until Hamas is completely eliminated.

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