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World court orders Israel to 'immediately halt' Rafah offensive

Court president Joan Donoghue (C) and associate judges arrive to hear South African arguments to the International Court of Justice as part of the case brought against Israel over its Rafah offensive, The Hague, May 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

The International Court of Justice, the top United Nations court, has ordered Israel to halt its offensive in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah.

Israel must "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," the ICJ said on Friday.

In early May, Israel carried out ground incursions into the refugee-packed city of Rafah in defiance of global warnings, forcing more than 800,000 people “to flee”, according to UN figures.

The ICJ, widely known as the world court, also ordered the Israeli regime to open the Rafah crossing to ensure the "unhindered" access of humanitarian aid.

Israel must "maintain open the Rafah crossing for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance," the court added in the landmark ruling.

The ruling came as South Africa last week asked the ICJ to order a halt to the war in Gaza, and in Rafah in particular.

South Africa filed a genocide case against Israel in December 2023 over its war on the Gaza Strip. According to South Africa’s application, Israel's actions in Gaza were "genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group."

Palestinians inspect boats damaged in Israeli fire in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

The ICJ’s final ruling on the broader South African case may take months if not years to rule, but the court can order urgent measures while weighing its decision.

In January, the ICJ, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, issued an interim ruling, ordering the occupying regime to take all measures to prevent genocide in Gaza, but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.

On March 6, South Africa returned to the court, requesting additional provisional measures against Israel in light of reports of widespread starvation.

Later in March, the court ordered Israel to take "all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full cooperation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Israel launched the war on Gaza on October 7 after the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas waged the surprise Operation Al-Aqsa Storm against the occupying entity in response to the Israeli regime's decades-long campaign of bloodletting and devastation against Palestinians.

Tel Aviv has also blocked water, food, and electricity to Gaza, plunging the coastal strip into a humanitarian crisis.

Since the start of the offensive, the Tel Aviv regime has killed at least 35,800 Palestinians and injured 80,200 more.

The ICJ ruling comes hot on the heels of another highly charged decision Monday by the International Criminal Court prosecutor who requested arrest warrants to be issued against Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the regime’s minister of military affairs Yoav Gallant on charges of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”.

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