Israel must “stop its military offensive in Rafah”

Israel must “stop its military offensive in Rafah”
Israel must “stop its military offensive in Rafah”

An Israeli bombing of Rafah partially demolished this building.

AFP

The UN’s highest court on Friday ordered Israel to halt its military offensive in Rafah, a move likely to add to international pressure for a truce after more than seven months of war.

Israel must “immediately stop its military offensive, and any other action carried out in the Rafah governorate, which would be likely to inflict on the group of Palestinians in Gaza conditions of existence capable of leading to its physical or partial destruction,” declared the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which sits in The Hague. She added that Israel must keep the Rafah crossing open for “unrestricted” aid and called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of hostages held in Gaza.

No way to enforce order

The orders of the ICJ, which decides disputes between states, are legally binding, but it has no way of enforcing them.

Israel had affirmed before the ICJ that an imposed ceasefire would allow Hamas fighters to regroup, and would make it impossible to release hostages taken during the attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement on October 7.

Hamas “welcomes the decision of the International Court of Justice,” it said in a statement, adding however that it expected the highest court of the UN “to take a decision to put end the aggression and genocide against our people throughout the Gaza Strip, not just in Rafah.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would bring together several ministers from his government about the ICJ decision, welcomed by Pretoria.

“This is a set of interim measures that are much firmer in their wording and a very clear call for a cessation of hostilities,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told national broadcaster SABC .

The ICJ’s decision comes a few days after a historic request from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Karim Khan has requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense minister and three Hamas leaders for alleged crimes committed in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza

South Africa took the case to the ICJ in December, saying Israel’s Gaza offensive violated the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. The court in January ordered Israel to do all which is in its power to prevent any act of genocide and allow the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

But Pretoria repeatedly turned to the ICJ again, arguing that the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza required the court to take new emergency measures. Pretoria declared last week before the ICJ that “the genocide” committed by Israel had reached a “horrible level”, referring in particular to mass graves, acts of torture and a blockage of humanitarian aid.

It will take months, if not years, for the court to rule on the merits of the case brought by Pretoria, but it can order urgent measures in the meantime.

Completely disconnected from reality

This affair is “completely disconnected” from reality and is a “caricature” of the United Nations Convention on Genocide which Israel is accused of having violated, Israel retorted. “Calling something a genocide, over and over again, does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” Gilad Noam, Israel’s deputy attorney general for international affairs, told the court.

Israel also said it was “acutely aware” of the suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip and had made “considerable efforts” to increase humanitarian aid.

US President Joe Biden said this week that “what is happening is not genocide.”

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