The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to stop its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The top United Nations court said the humanitarian situation in Rafah had “deteriorated further” since its previous court order for Israel to improve it, adding that what was happening there was “disastrous”.

It comes after South Africa put in an emergency request to the ICJ for it to order Israel to stop its Rafah assault.


The ICJ president Nawaf Salam said: “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.”

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

The order was handed down a week after it was requested by South Africa, which in January formally accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in a hearing at the UN court.

Israel, which claims that its operations in Gaza are in self-defence, has vehemently denied the accusations.

The ICJ is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states, and its rulings are final and binding but have been ignored in the past.

The court has no enforcement powers and Israel is unlikely to comply with the latest ICJ order, which was adopted by a panel of 15 judges from around the world in a 13-2 vote, opposed only by judges from Uganda and Israel.

In response to the judgment, Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich said: “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. If we lay down our weapons, the enemy will reach the beds of our children and women throughout the country.”

Israel says it has no choice but to attack Rafah to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it thinks are hiding there.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to both eliminate Hamas and get all the hostages back who were taken in the October 7th attacks.



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