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ICJ orders Israel to stop Rafah assault in response to South Africa genocide complaint

By Doug Cunningham & Ehren Wynder
Palestinians check the damage in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Friday, May 3, 2024. The bombing resulted in the death of seven members of one family, according to medical sources. The U.N.'s International Court of Justice Friday ordered Israel to stop its military assault on Rafah. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
1 of 2 | Palestinians check the damage in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Friday, May 3, 2024. The bombing resulted in the death of seven members of one family, according to medical sources. The U.N.'s International Court of Justice Friday ordered Israel to stop its military assault on Rafah. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

May 24 (UPI) -- The International Court of Justice Friday ordered Israel to stop its Rafah military assault in Gaza in response to a complaint from South Africa.

In its ruling, the ICJ said Israel must keep the Rafah crossing open for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance" and "take effective measures to ensure the unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of any commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or other investigative body mandated by competent organs of the United Nations to investigate allegations of genocide."

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"The State of Israel shall, in conformity with its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and in view of the worsening conditions of life faced by civilians in the Rafah Governorate: 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," it said.

The ICJ, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations but has no effective enforcement mechanism said the conditions created by Israel's military assault on Gaza in reaction to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people, has created a "catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip."

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Israel's National Security Council and Foreign Ministry responded to the ruling in a joint statement saying Israel "has not and will not" carry out military operations in Rafah that target Palestinian civilians and that its operations are compliant with international law.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz on Friday told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Israeli forces will continue the Rafah campaign despite the ICJ's ruling.

"The State of Israel is committed to continue fighting to return its hostages and promise the security of its citizens -- wherever and whenever necessary -- including in Rafah," Gantz said in a statement responding to the ruling.

Palestinian Authority officials welcomed the ICJ ruling and said it "represents an international consensus on the demand to stop the all-out war on Gaza."

The Ministry of Health in Gaza said that as of Wednesday 35,709 people in Gaza have been killed and 79,990 more have been injured since the start of the war.

Israel argued before the court that Israel is defending itself against Hamas and accused South Africa of using allegedly distorting statements from Israeli leaders to "show genocidal intent that is simply not there."

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The chief prosecutor for a different international court, the International Criminal Court, requested on Monday that judges issue war crimes arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders.

The war crimes and crimes against humanity warrants sought are for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Muhammad Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

The ICJ also ordered Israel to submit a report to the court within one month on all measures taken to comply with the order.

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