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Israel's ground invasion of Rafah disregards ICJ order, says South African envoy to UN

A child in a destroyed building in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, is seen on February 12, 2023. (Photo by EPA)

South Africa’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations has warned that a looming Israeli attack on the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip ignores preventive measures issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to stop breach of Palestinians' rights.

“The announcement of expanded military operations in Rafah, which has turned into a de facto refugee camp, further perpetuates the displacement of Palestinians and threatens civilians’ almost non-existent livelihoods,” Marthinus Van Schalkwyk said in a UN Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security.

He further noted that the Israeli plan disregards the order of the ICJ issued on January 26, which ordered Israel to take action to prevent acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

Van Schalkwykm said that Israeli attacks are considered a “blatant disregard of international humanitarian law, especially non-protection of non-combatants caught in the crossfire."

He added that the attacks also constitute "the deliberate denial of access to humanitarian aid, which remains rampant."

He stressed that South Africa condemns all types of restrictions on humanitarian aid, targeting of infrastructure and the use of starvation as a tool of war.

“This Council continues to witness the devastating effects of armed conflict on civilians, exacerbating humanitarian crises, as well as food and nutrition insecurity,” the South African envoy added.

Moreover, Algerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Youcef Cherfa, who attended the meeting, said that the Israeli regime does not respect even the most basic moral values and “the international community is a bystander in the face of these flagrant violations instead of putting an end to this Zionist aggression.”

Cherfa added that “this bombardment left nothing alive” and criticized the “systemic defamation campaign” against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), urging the council to put an immediate end to the suffering of the Palestinian people and ensure the immediate delivery of aid to the affected civilians.

The remarks came after the South African government filed an urgent request at the ICJ on Monday over Israel's planned ground invasion of the city of Rafah, urging its intervention to protect Palestinian rights based on the Court's order of January 26.

Last month, the ICJ ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent its troops from committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. It also ordered the Israeli regime to immediately ensure that Palestinians have access to basic services and humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations humanitarian chief has raised alarm about Israel’s potential ground invasion of Rafah, saying the raid could lead to a “slaughter” in the densely populated Gaza city and put aid operation at “death's door.”

Martin Griffiths said in a statement on Wednesday that more than half of Gaza’s population are now "crammed in Rafah, staring death in the face,” noting that they “have little to eat, hardly any access to medical care, nowhere to sleep, nowhere safe to go.”

The attacks are focusing on Rafah, situated in the Gaza Strip’s closed southern border with Egypt, which is home to nearly 1.5 million Palestinians who have been displaced due to Israel’s genocidal war on the besieged territory.

More than 28,500 Palestinians have been killed and at least 68,000 have been wounded in the Gaza Strip due to Israel's latest aggression which began in October last year.

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