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War in the Middle East: UN court orders halt to Israel’s Rafah offensive

War in the Middle East: UN court orders halt to Israel’s Rafah offensive

Israel is increasingly isolated because of its actions in the Gaza war. Now the UN’s highest court is demanding an immediate end to the military operation in Rafah. But it cannot force this.

It is another setback in an increasingly isolated situation: the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to immediately end its military operation in Rafah.

With this decision, the highest court of the United Nations in The Hague partially complied with demands that South Africa had made in an urgent application. Decisions of the World Court are binding. However, the UN judges have no power to force a state to implement them.

According to the judges, the humanitarian situation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip has become disastrous. Further measures are needed to prevent further harm to the civilian population. The court now demanded that Israel “in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention and in view of the deteriorating living conditions of the civilian population in the Rafah Governorate, immediately cease its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah Governorate that could impose living conditions on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that could bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part.”

UN chief calls Israel to account

Following the court’s request to Israel, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expects a halt to the military operation. “The Secretary-General recalls that decisions of the Court are binding in accordance with the Charter and Statute of the Court and trusts that the parties will duly comply with the Court’s order,” the United Nations said.

Israel said it considered the genocide allegations made by South Africa to be “false, outrageous and abhorrent.” A statement from the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Bureau said Israel had launched a “just defensive war” after the October 7 terrorist attack to eliminate Hamas and free the hostages. Israel would continue its efforts to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and act in accordance with the law to minimize harm to the civilian population.

It is unlikely that Israel will implement the call to end the Rafah operation. Government spokesman Avi Hyman said on Thursday of such a demand: “No power in the world will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and taking action against Hamas in Gaza. We will destroy Hamas, we will restore peace and security for the people of Israel and the people of Gaza. We cannot tolerate a regime on our southern border that seeks genocide.”

Israel to submit report within one month

Since the beginning of May, the Israeli army has been advancing in Rafah despite international criticism – where at times more than a million people had sought protection because of the fighting in other parts of the Gaza Strip. Israel describes its controversial military action there as cautious and limited, and from the perspective of its ally the USA, the operation has not yet reached the extent of which Israel was warned. The UN court explicitly spoke of a ground offensive in Rafah.

In addition to ending the offensive, the judges demanded that Israel keep the Rafah border crossing open for urgently needed humanitarian aid. Israel should allow the United Nations to investigate allegations of genocide in the Gaza Strip. Israel should also submit a report on all measures taken within one month.

Once a decision has been made, the UN judges can call on the UN Security Council to take action on the matter. All member states of the court are obliged to respect the decisions of the Security Council. However, it seems at least questionable whether the USA would waive its right of veto in the case of a corresponding resolution requiring Israel to withdraw from Rafah.

Another serious setback for Israel

The UN judges’ demand for an end to the military operation is another serious setback for Israel, after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Joav Galan just a few days ago. This was followed by the announced recognition of Palestine as an independent state by Norway and the two EU countries Ireland and Spain.

Following the decision, the Palestinian Authority – like the Islamist Hamas – called on the international community to put pressure on Israel. The international community should force Israel to implement the decision, it said in a statement published in Ramallah on Friday. The authority sees the court’s decision as confirmation of its view that Israel is committing war crimes.

South Africa has already called for urgent action against Israel several times. This is part of the genocide lawsuit that the country filed with the court in December. In two urgent decisions, the UN judges had already ordered Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocide and to allow humanitarian aid. Long before going to the ICJ, South Africa had assured the Palestinians of its solidarity. President Cyril Ramaphosa stressed that his party, which had fought against the apartheid system in South Africa, stood by the Palestinians. The only way out of the problems in the Middle East was a two-state solution.

Israel invokes its right to self-defense

Israel had rejected accusations of genocide in the Gaza Strip before the International Court of Justice as baseless. The accusations brought forward by South Africa were a “distortion of reality”. Israel is invoking its right to self-defense after terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups attacked southern Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people.

In Rafah, Israel wants to destroy the last remaining Hamas battalions. According to information from the “Times of Israel”, there are still 300,000 to 400,000 civilians in Rafah. According to the Hamas-controlled health authority, the number of dead in the Gaza Strip is now 35,800. There are also reports of more than 80,000 injured.

Source: Stern

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