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International Court of Justice Orders Israel to Halt Offensive in Rafah

Judges at the United Nations’ highest court have urged Israel to cease its planned military operations in Rafah during a session held in The Hague on Friday. President Nawaf Salam of the International Court of Justice, leading the hearing, cited UN officials’ repeated warnings about the humanitarian risks posed by the offensive in Rafah, where approximately 800,000 Palestinians are displaced. Salam called for Israel to immediately halt its military actions in Rafah, emphasizing that Palestinian civilians are at immediate risk.

Salam noted that previous provisional measures issued by the court in March did not adequately address the current situation in Gaza. He argued that this emergency order was crucial due to the dire humanitarian conditions prevailing in Gaza, marking the first time the ICJ has directed Israel to halt its military operations, following previous orders related to preventing genocide and facilitating aid access in Gaza.

The case was brought to the ICJ by South Africa under emergency measures as part of a broader case concerning Israel’s conduct in Gaza, which accuses Israel of genocide against the Palestinian population. In the same session, the ICJ also instructed Israel to open the Rafah border crossing for humanitarian aid and provide a progress report within a month.

Responses to the ruling have been varied. Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, criticized the decision vehemently, advocating for increased military pressure to combat Hamas. Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid similarly condemned the ruling, arguing that it failed to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism.

Within the court proceedings, Israel defended its military actions as targeting Hamas rather than civilians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an immediate special ministerial meeting to determine the government’s response.

Conversely, South Africa’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the ICJ’s decision as groundbreaking, highlighting its explicit order to halt operations in Gaza for the first time. Humanitarian organizations have long warned against the potential humanitarian catastrophe of an Israeli invasion into Rafah, stressing the impact on its densely populated areas.

The ICJ, often referred to as the World Court, is one of the principal organs of the United Nations and the sole international court for adjudicating disputes between nations. While its rulings are legally binding, enforcement mechanisms are lacking, as seen in previous cases such as Russia’s non-compliance with an ICJ ruling in 2022 regarding its invasion of Ukraine.

The immediate impact of the ICJ’s decision may hinge on international pressure exerted on Israel and its allies. Legal experts and human rights advocates have called on states to use their influence, including through arms embargoes and targeted sanctions, to ensure compliance with the court’s measures.

Additionally, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has also been active in addressing issues related to the Israel-Palestine conflict, with Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan recently seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes and genocide, despite Israel not being a member of the ICC.

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