Top UN court demands Israel halt military operations in Rafah

Top UN court demands Israel halt military operations in Rafah

Israel must immediately halt its military operations in the area of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, the United Nations top court ruled Friday.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) marks a major condemnation of how Israel is conducting its war against Hamas in Gaza but also leaves open whether the ruling can be enforced.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the military operation to achieve “complete victory” over Hamas.

Judges on the court voted 13-2 for Israel to “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 case at the ICJ was brought by South Africa, accusing Israel of carrying out genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and appealed to the court to implement more stringent measures to block Israel’s military operations.

The court focused its ruling on the southern Gazan city of Rafah, which sits on the border with Egypt and is the epicenter of a nearly two-week military campaign being carried out by Israel.

Israel said its military operations are focused on rooting out the last four battalions of Hamas’s conventional army, and searching for hostages — alive or dead — being held in Rafah.

But the majority of the international community has raised urgent alarm that any military operation poses a dire threat to the more than 1 million Palestinians sheltering in the small, dense, southern-city.

The court described as “exceptionally grave” new evacuation orders for an estimated 800,000 Palestinians in Rafah.

The ICJ, in its ruling, also voted 13-2 for Israel to “open the Rafah crossing [with Egypt] for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

The court further is calling on Israel to ensure the unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip for any investigative bodies and fact-finding missions to investigate allegations of genocide.

The ruling by the ICJ marks a significant statement of international condemnation against a democratic country with a robust, independent judiciary. Still, the court has limited ability to enforce its ruling and Israel is unlikely to adhere to the court’s order.

Netanyahu has said that military pressure on Hamas is the only way to achieve complete victory and restore security after the group’s Oct. 7 attack against Israel, when Hamas fighters killed an estimated 1,200 people in southern Israel, the majority civilians, and took more than 250 people hostage. An estimated 125 people are still being held by the group in Gaza.

“As ICJ judges in The Hague deliberate in comfort and return to their families, 125 hostages languish in tunnels. Israel will not cease the war until our hostages are brought back home and Hamas is completely defeated,” Danny Danon, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, posted on the social platform X.

Israel launched its war against Hamas, called “Operation Iron Swords,” nearly eight months ago, shortly after Oct. 7. The war has caused widespread devastation to the strip, with an estimated 30,000 Palestinians killed — the majority women and children. Israel says 13,000 Hamas fighters are among those killed. The United Nations has said famine is present in parts of the strip, and the population is suffering from mass starvation, disease, and displacement.

Mediation efforts by the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — to secure the release of hostages and increase humanitarian deliveries into Gaza — has yet to succeed.

Updated at 10:13 a.m. ET

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.