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ICJ orders Israel to stop military attack on Rafah

The International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to “immediately” halt its military offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, dealing another blow to the country as it faces a crisis. The increase in military attacks is increasing. international quarantine and a series of criticisms of its conduct during the war.

The court has few effective means of enforcing its orders and it has not ordered a ceasefire in Gaza, with some of the court’s judges suggesting that Israel could still conduct some military operations in Gaza. Rafah according to the terms of their decision.

However, the order has put more pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced calls at home and abroad to reach a ceasefire with Hamas that would lead to the release of the hostages. held in Gaza.

“The Court holds that, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, Israel must immediately cease its military offensive and any other actions in Rafah province that could cause harm to Palestinian groups in Gaza living conditions can lead to physical consequences for them.” total or partial destruction,” the court president, Nawaf Salam, said in the reading 13-2 ruling.

The court, based in The Hague, also highlighted the need to open overland routes, especially the Rafah route, as part of its requirement for the “unhindered provision” of services and support. humanitarian aid. According to UN data, Israel has controlled the Rafah crossing for more than two weeks and few aid trucks have entered the area since then.

The Israeli government said in a statement that its military “has not and will not” carry out actions that would lead to the partial or total destruction of the Palestinian population of Rafah. In fact, they said the court’s decision had no impact on Israel’s offensive actions because the prohibited acts did not occur.

Hard-line Israeli politicians say Israel should ignore the ruling.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, said in a statement: “A response is needed: conquer Rafah, escalate military pressure and completely destroy Hamas until it is achieved.” complete victory”.

Hamas welcomed the court order in a statement on the messaging app Telegram, calling on the international community to pressure Israel to comply. But the Palestinian armed group – which led the October 7 attack on Israel that sparked the war and led to the deaths of 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 250 others in Gaza – criticized the court for refusing to issue an order. for Israel to completely cease operations in Gaza. .

Hamas said other Israeli actions were “no less criminal and dangerous than what is happening in Rafah.”

The ruling is the latest rebuke against Israel for waging war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Gazan health officials say more than 35,000 people, many of them women and children, have died, although officials do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have repeatedly fled territories to avoid Israeli bombardment.

The court order comes two days after three European countries – Ireland, Spain and Norway – announced that they would recognize a Palestinian state. They also come after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announced on Monday that he had request an arrest warrant against Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, along with three top Hamas officials — including Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader in Gaza — on charges of crimes against humanity.

The case against Israel was filed by a South African legal team at the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, last week. The group called on judges to place further restrictions on Israel’s incursion into Rafah, saying it was “the last one”. enter into the destruction of Gaza and its people.”

Israel’s deputy attorney general for international law, Gilad Noam, and other Israeli lawyers dismissed the claims in court last Friday, calling the South African case a “factual reversal.” Mr. Noam called Israel’s attack on Rafah “limited and localized operations prefaced by evacuation efforts and support for humanitarian operations.”

But on Friday, Judge Salam said the court remained unconvinced that Israel’s mass evacuation efforts and humanitarian measures actually protected Palestinian civilians from the “enormous danger” they face. due to the military offensive in Rafah.

Israeli officials have vowed to operate in Rafah to eliminate Hamas rule there, despite international outcry over the mass displacement of Palestinians sheltering in the city. However, legal analysts say the Israeli military may still have room to act.

“This decision does not order a halt to all military action in Rafah — just that military action does not help life continue in Rafah,” said Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli human rights lawyer. “At the same time, if Israel wants to comply with the ruling, it will have to scale down its operations significantly.”

Dire Tladi, the court’s South African judge, said that “legitimate defensive actions, within the strict limits of international law, to repel specific attacks” would be consistent with the court’s ruling. judgment. But he added that “continued offensive military operations in Rafah and elsewhere” would not happen.

“Israel can go the legally safe route and severely limit its activities,” said Adil Haque, a law professor at Rutgers Law School, “or it can go the legally risky route and severely limit its activities.” legal aspect and test the patience of the court.

Israel claims that its operation in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza and where more than 800,000 people have fled since the offensive began two weeks ago, was a precision operation aimed at militants Hamas hides there. Israeli officials said that before the October 7 attack led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group established four battalions in the city. Hamas has also built dozens of cross-border tunnels to smuggle weapons and ammunition despite the Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

Israel said Thursday that its forces were gradually advancing from the east toward central Rafah, where half the territory’s population has taken refuge from the Israeli army. command mass evacuation.

And on Friday, the military said its forces had destroyed “weapons storage facilities as well as tunnels.” Hamas also issued a series of updates on its Telegram channel, claiming that its armed wing was targeting Israeli troops with mortars and explosive devices in Rafah.

Activist groups such as Human Rights Watch welcomed the court order. Balkees Jarrah, the group’s deputy international justice director, said: “The International Court of Justice’s order highlights the severity of the situation facing Palestinians in Gaza, who have suffered greatly. months of blocking basic services and humanitarian aid amid continuing fighting.

Ms. Jarrah added: “Nowhere in Gaza is safe and civilians there are facing starvation, yet the Israeli government continues to flout the binding orders of the World Court by blocking Impeding access to life-saving aid and services.”

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition in the Israeli parliament, condemned the World Court’s ruling. But he added that if Netanyahu’s government had behaved more responsibly, it “could and should” have avoided such a damaging decision by the judges.

Mr. Lapid wrote on social networks: “A healthy and professional government will stop the crazy statements of ministers, stop criminals from burning aid vehicles and carry out political work quietly and effectively ”. “We will not win with this government.”

The South African group has argued before the World Court that Israel’s control of two major border crossings in southern Gaza, at Rafah and Kerem Shalom, is preventing enough aid from reaching the devastated enclave, pushing Gaza into “Humanitarian needs are at unprecedented levels.” ”

While few aid trucks entered Gaza, at least dozens of commercial trucks arrived from Israeli-run crossings in northern and southern Gaza. Those trucks carry goods for sale, not for free distribution.

On Friday, the White House and the Egyptian president announced that Egypt had agreed to allow fuel and humanitarian aid to flow from Egypt into Gaza through Kerem Shalom. The office of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt called this a “temporary measure”. His government initially refused to send trucks to Kerem Shalom in what American and Israeli officials called an effort to pressure Israel to withdraw from its Rafah operation.

The hearings are part of South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide. which it filed in December. On Friday, a joint statement from the Chief of Israel’s National Security Office and a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs again denied the claimcalling it “false, outrageous and disgusting.”

The main case involving accusations of genocide is not expected to begin until next year.

Richard Pérez-Peña, Raja Abdulrahim And James C. McKinley Jr. Report contributions.


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