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ICJ calls for immediate halt to Rafah offensive

According to the International Court of Justice, Israel must immediately end its offensive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The humanitarian situation in the city is “catastrophic”. This is likely to increase global pressure on Israel.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has called on Israel to immediately end its military offensive in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The court thereby partially granted an urgent application by South Africa.

The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has continued to deteriorate, explained the president of the court, Nawaf Salam, in his justification. In Rafah, it is now “catastrophic”. The military offensive could contribute to living conditions that lead to “the complete or partial destruction” of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip.

ICJ: Risk of genocide plausible

The court found that Israel had failed to sufficiently demonstrate that the safety of the population was ensured during the Rafah evacuation and that necessary resources, such as water, food, medicine and shelter, were provided to the 800,000 Palestinians affected.

The ICJ justified its decision not to call for a ceasefire for the entire Gaza Strip by citing Israel's right to self-defense. Nevertheless, the risk of genocide being committed in the Gaza Strip is “plausible,” the judge said. In response to the ruling, the court has demanded a written report from Israel by June 24.

Israel sees itself in accordance with international law

However, the country does not want to follow the ruling. “Israel is acting on the basis of its right to defend its territory and its citizens, in accordance with its moral values ​​and in compliance with international law,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in the evening.

Netanyahu again rejected South Africa's accusations of genocide. These accusations were “false, outrageous and morally reprehensible”. The operations in Rafah were not being carried out in such a way that the civilian population could be threatened with physical destruction in whole or in part. Opposition leader Benny Gantz, minister in the war cabinet, has also announced that Israel will continue its “just and necessary” war against the Hamas terrorists and for the return of the hostages.

U.N-Secretary General: Judgment is binding

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, on the other hand, is holding Israel accountable. “The Secretary-General recalls that decisions of the Court are binding under the Charter and Statute of the Court and trusts that the parties will duly comply with the Court's order,” the United Nations said.

Even if the decisions of the World Court are binding, the UN judges have no power to force a state to implement them. Russia, for example, has so far ignored a decision from 2022 to stop its attack on neighboring Ukraine. The UN judges can, however, call on the UN Security Council to take action on the matter.

Borrell: EU must now decide

The EU must now decide, said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “We will have to choose between our support for international institutions of the rule of law or our support for Israel.”

The militant Islamist Hamas welcomed the decision, but said it was not sufficient. Israel must end the entire offensive. In a statement, it called on the international community and the UN to put pressure on Israel. A member of the Hamas political bureau stressed that without international pressure, the court's decision would be ineffective.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank said the ruling represented an “international consensus” that the war in the Gaza Strip must end.

South Africa: “Order is groundbreaking”

South Africa called the order “groundbreaking”. “Because it is the first time that Israel has been explicitly asked to stop its military actions in any area of ​​the Gaza Strip,” said Zane Dangor, Director General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. This is de facto a call for a ceasefire. The South African Foreign Ministry announced that it would now turn to the UN Security Council.

South Africa had appealed to the court and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli military from the entire Gaza Strip – including the troops in Rafah. The country has already called for urgent action against Israel several times. This is being done as part of the genocide lawsuit that the country filed with the court in December. In two decisions, the UN judges had already obliged Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocide and to allow humanitarian aid.

Israel rejects allegations

Israel had rejected accusations of genocide in the Gaza Strip before the International Court of Justice as baseless. The country invoked its right to self-defense after terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and abducting more than 250 people in the Gaza Strip.

Since the beginning of May, Israel's army says it has been carrying out “targeted” operations in Rafah, where it has located the last remaining Hamas battalions and wants to destroy them. According to figures from the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, which cannot be independently verified, more than 35,400 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli attacks so far.

More criticism and arrest warrants

Criticism of Israel's conduct of the war has recently increased. Even the closest ally, the USA, warned Prime Minister Netanyahu against a large-scale offensive in the city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people have sought protection from the fighting in other parts of the Gaza Strip. After almost eight months of war, Rafah is the last halfway intact city in the Gaza Strip.

The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested arrest warrants against Netanyahu and his defense minister Yoav Gallant as well as three leaders of the terrorist organization Hamas for alleged crimes against humanity. Like the ICJ, the ICC is based in The Hague.

With information from Ludger Kazmierczak, WDR

Ludger Kazmierczak, WDR, tagesschau, 24.05.2024 16:10

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