Top UN court to hold hearings on Israel's Rafah offensive this week

AFP , Tuesday 14 May 2024

The top UN court said it would hold hearings Thursday and Friday over South Africa's request to impose emergency orders on Israel to halt its Rafah offensive.

UN The International Court of Justice
File Photo: UN The International Court of Justice. AP


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will hear lawyers from South Africa on Thursday, followed by Israel's response the next day, it said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Pretoria petitioned the ICJ for so-called provisional measures over the incursion into Rafah, asking the court to order Israel to "immediately withdraw and cease its military offensive."

It also requested the court to order Israel to take "all effective measures" to facilitate "unimpeded" access to humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Nearly 450,000 Palestinians have been newly displaced from Rafah in recent days, and around 100,000 from northern Gaza, according to UN agencies, which warn that "no place is safe" in the territory.

Ground fighting and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported recently around Rafah as well as in Gaza City and Jabalia refugee camp in the north and Nuseirat camp in the centre.


The United States and other countries, as well as top UN officials, have warned that a full-out assault on Rafah could have a disastrous impact on the thousands of refugees driven there by fighting elsewhere in Gaza, many of them living in desperate conditions.

Israel has said it is attempting to keep civilian casualties to a minimum.

The bloodiest ever Israeli war has killed at least 35,173 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the health ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that almost half of those killed are Hamas fighters, playing down the ministry's toll that has sparked global outrage.


'Last refuge'


In a ruling in mid-January that made headlines worldwide, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent genocide during its Gaza offensive.

The court also ruled that Israel must allow aid into Gaza to ease the desperate humanitarian situation there.

South Africa says that Israel is acting in contravention of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, claims strongly denied by Israel.

The court rejected a second South African application for emergency measures over Israel's threat to attack Rafah. South Africa made a new request in early March.

Pretoria argues that the latest offensive on Rafah has changed the situation on the ground and that the court needs to alter its orders in response.

"In attacking Rafah, Israel is attacking the 'last refuge' in Gaza, and the only remaining area of the Strip which has not yet been substantially destroyed by Israel," South Africa said in its submission.

"With Rafah's destruction, the destruction of Gaza itself will be complete," it added.

Israel has said it remained "committed to the observance of its international legal obligations" and has taken several measures to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza.

It has lashed out at South Africa for its "bellicose and offensive tone", describing the accusations as "outrageous and categorically denied."

The ICJ was set up to rule on disputes between states and while its judgements are legally binding, it has little means to enforce them.

For example, the court has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, to no avail.

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