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ICJ's Rafah order further isolates Israel

World Saturday 25/May/2024 08:21 AM
By: DW
ICJ's Rafah order further isolates Israel

The International Court of Justice, which is colloquially known as the World Court, ordered Israel to cease its offensive in southern Gaza on Friday in yet another blow to the country's international standing. Judges said evacuation efforts were insufficient to alleviate the "immense risk" for civilians.

"Israel must immediately halt its military offensive or 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," ICJ President Nawaf Salam said.

Two weeks ago, and despite warnings from its allies, Israel launched an incursion in Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians had already fled since Israel declared war on Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, after its terrorist attack on Israel on October 7

Humanitarian situation ‘disastrous'

Since May 6, about 800,000 Gazans, around one-third of the sealed-off coastal enclave's entire population, have been displaced from Rafah alone, Salam said, citing UN findings that also flagged ongoing food, water and medicine shortages compounded by border closures.

"The humanitarian situation is now to be characterized as disastrous," the judge told the Palace of Peace courthouse in The Hague, reading out the 13-2 decision.

The interim World Court order is part of an ongoing genocide trial brought by South Africa late last year against Israel for its campaign in Gaza. Israel says it aims to wipe out Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Germany, the European Union, the US, and others, and secure the release of more than 100 hostages seized on October 7 and still believed to be in Gaza.

Israel has argued that it is fighting a war of self-defense against an antisemitic group.

Hamas cannot be tried at the ICJ because it is not a state.

On Friday, the court also ordered Israel to prevent the destruction of potential evidence for investigations into Israel's conduct in Gaza, and to ensure the passage of aid through the Israeli-controlled Palestinian side of Rafah's land border with Egypt.

With the final ruling in the broader trial not expected for many months or perhaps even years, South Africa's government has requested that the ICJ hand down a string of emergency measures to protect civilians in the meantime.

In a separate interim ruling in late March, the court told Israel that it must let more aid through its blockade amid warnings of imminent famine. A few days after the Rafah offensive began on May 6, South Africa petitioned the ICJ again, at least partly successfully.

Israel slams ruling

The latest ruling comes in a flurry of developments that leave Israel looking increasingly isolated internationally, if still backed by Western allies — most crucially the United States.

On Monday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it would seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, plus several Hamas officials, on charges of war crimes. Nearly 1,200 people were killed on October 7, according to Israel's official tally, and more than 35,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed during Israel's Gaza campaign.

On Wednesday, Ireland, Spain and Norway announced that they would recognize Palestinian statehood, something Israel said was essentially a reward for Hamas. The US and the EU both officially support the eventual creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution, but who could govern it is highly disputed.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich appeared to brush off the ICJ ruling on Friday. "The state of Israel is at war for its existence," he wrote on X. "Those who demand that the State of Israel stop the war demand that it decree itself to cease to exist. We will not agree to that."

Israel rebukes South Africa over Gaza genocide allegations