International Court of Justice orders Israel to halt military operations in Rafah

Humanitarian situation in Palestinian city deteriorating and now classifies as ‘disastrous’, says court

The UN’s top court has ordered Israel to “immediately halt” its military offensive in Rafah, where more than a million “extremely vulnerable” Palestinians are sheltering from its bombardment.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said it had been forced to modify an earlier position because humanitarian conditions which had been described by the UN in March as “catastrophic” had continued to worsen — with some 800,000 people now displaced in the Rafah region.

“Israel must immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah governorate which may inflict on Palestinians in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about their physical destruction, in whole or in part,” said the court’s president, Judge Nawaf Salam.

Judge Salam also expressed “grave concern” over the fate of the Israeli hostages believed to have been taken to Gaza by Hamas militants following the attacks of October 7th. He called again for their “immediate unconditional release”.


However, all four of the new emergency measures ordered by the court in response to an updated application by South Africa — based on the dangers it alleged were posed by Israel’s latest push into Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip — were aimed directly at Israel.

Having called for a halt to Israel’s military offensive, the court ordered that the Rafah Crossing into Egypt, and as many other crossings as possible, be kept open to allow for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.

The judges ordered effective measures be taken to ensure unimpeded access for the members of any UN-mandated commission of inquiry or fact-finding body investigating allegations of genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Finally, the court ordered Israel to submit a report within one month of its ruling showing how it was complying with each of the four elements of the order — each of which was supported by the judges by a 13-2 majority.

The dissenting judges were from Israel and Uganda.

Friday’s judgment on emergency measures was part of a larger suit brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide in its response to the October 7th attacks by Hamas militants in which 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli figures.

Israel has vehemently rejected the allegation of genocide as “a blood libel” and says it will continue to pursue the remaining Hamas fighters and leadership militarily until the organisation is incapable of staging another attack.

More than 35,000 Palestinians have since been killed in fierce retaliatory ground and air assault by Israel and at least another 10,000 are missing, according to figures from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

The court has already issued two interim orders in South Africa’s case. In January, the ICJ judges ordered Israel to ensure that its forces committed no genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza and ordered Hamas to release all Israeli hostages immediately and unconditionally. In March, it ordered Israel to take measures to improve the humanitarian situation.

The court’s rulings are binding but it does not have any means of enforcing them so they are frequently ignored, such as in March 2022 when it ordered Russia to end its campaign in Ukraine.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court