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Israel strikes Rafah despite order of UN court

Israeli air strikes and artillery pounded Rafah on Saturday despite the UN’s top court ordering an immediate halt to its military offensive in the southern…

Israeli air strikes and artillery pounded Rafah on Saturday despite the UN’s top court ordering an immediate halt to its military offensive in the southern Gazan city.

At the same time, renewed efforts were underway in Paris aimed at securing a ceasefire in the war sparked by Palestinian militant group Hamas’ unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel.

In a case brought by South Africa alleging the Israeli military operation amounts to “genocide”, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive and demanded the immediate release of hostages still held by Palestinian militants.

The Hague-based ICJ, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, also instructed Israel to keep open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which Israel closed earlier this month.

Israel gave no indication it was preparing to change course in Rafah, insisting the court had got it wrong.

“Israel has not and will not carry out military operations in the Rafah area that create living conditions that could cause the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part,” National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a joint statement with Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman.

Hamas, the Iran-backed Islamist group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, welcomed the ICJ ruling on Rafah but criticised its decision to exclude the rest of the Palestinian territory from the order.

‘Nothing left here’
In spite of the ICJ ruling, Israel carried out strikes throughout the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning as fighting raged between the army and Hamas’ armed wing.

Palestinian witnesses and AFP teams reported Israeli strikes or shelling in Rafah, the central city of Deir al-Balah, Gaza City, Jabalia refugee camp and elsewhere.

“We hope that the court’s decision will put pressure on Israel to end this war of extermination because there is nothing left here,” said Umm Mohammad Al-Ashqa, a Palestinian woman from Gaza City displaced to Deir al-Balah by the war.

Mohammed Saleh, also interviewed by AFP in the central Gazan city, said, “Israel is a state that considers itself above the law. Therefore, I do not believe that the shooting or the war will stop other than by force.”

Yahya, a 34-year-old in Gaza who did not give his second name for security reasons, said: “Perhaps these decisions… that Israel has not complied with, will make the Western world move more strongly (in favour) of our cause at popular and political levels, supporting the recognition of the state of Palestine and strengthening our rights”.

The ICJ ruling came days after Ireland, Spain and Norway said they would formally recognise a Palestinian state and the International Criminal Court prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Hamas leaders on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In its ruling, the ICJ said Israel must “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 UN court ordered Israel to allow UN-mandated investigators “unimpeded access” to Gaza to look into the genocide allegations.

It also instructed Israel to open the Rafah crossing for the “unhindered provision at scale” of humanitarian aid and also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

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