World Court orders Israel to halt assault on Rafah

A ceasefire deal proposed by the US has won the support of the United Nations Security Council.

A ceasefire deal proposed by the US has won the support of the United Nations Security Council. Photo: Getty

The United Nations’ top court has issued a dramatic ruling demanding Israel “immediately halt” its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, with the humanitarian situation now “disastrous”.

Judges made the order in a landmark emergency ruling overnight Friday (AEDT) on South Africa’s case which accuses Israel of genocide.

The International Court of Justice or World Court said the situation in the Palestinian enclave had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it.

Conditions had been met for a new emergency order.

“The state of Israel shall (….) 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,” said body’s president Nawaf Salam.

The court also ordered Israel to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow in humanitarian aid, and said it must provide access to the besieged enclave for investigators and report back on its progress within one month.

The order was adopted by the panel of 15 judges from around the world in a 13-2 vote, opposed only by judges from Uganda and from Israel itself.

It was handed down a week after it was requested by South Africa as part of a case accusing Israel of genocide.

The ICJ is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states. Its rulings are final and binding but have been ignored in the past. The court has no enforcement powers.

Reaction from both sides was swift. Hamas welcomed the verdict and called on the UN Security Council to implement the ICJ decision.

The Palestinian Authority said the decision represented an international consensus to end the war, Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told Reuters.

The offices of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Ministry issued a joint statement.

“South Africa’s accusations against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague regarding ‘genocide’ are false, outrageous and disgusting,” said the statement.

“Israel has not and will not carry out a military campaign in the Rafah area that creates living conditions that could lead to the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part.”

The ruling came as Israeli forces stepped up military strikes on Gaza, residents and medics say, with heavy fighting reported in Jabalia in the north and tanks pushing further into Rafah.

Medics said at least five Palestinians were killed when houses were hit in Jabalia and more were believed to be trapped under rubble.

In Rafah residents reported explosions and smoke rising in the distance as tanks advanced further into the eastern district of Jneina.

Israel launched its assault on Gaza following a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities on October 7 that killed 1200 people and resulted in more than 250 hostages being seized, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, Israel’s incursion has killed more than 35,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities.

The Israeli military said it had recovered the bodies of three hostages taken into Gaza after they were killed on October 7.

It said the bodies of Hanan Yablonka, Michel Nisenbaum and Orion Hernandez Radoux were recovered overnight in a joint operation by the army and the intelligence services in Jabalia.

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of Gaza in May have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and have cut off the main access routes for aid, raising the risk of famine.

An Axios report citing an unnamed US official said the heads of the US CIA and Israel’s Mossad would meet in Paris on Friday with the prime minister of Qatar in an attempt to revive talks for a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal.

-with AAP

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