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Israel says World Court order doesn’t rule out entire Rafah offensive

Israel says World Court order doesn’t rule out entire Rafah offensive
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Israel considers that an order by the World Court to halt its military offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza allows room for some military action there, Israeli officials said.

In an emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide, judges at the International Court of Justice ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its assault on Rafah, where Israel says it is rooting out Hamas fighters.

“What they are asking us, is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel’s N12 TV on Saturday.

Asked whether the Rafah offensive would continue, Hanegbi said: “According to international law, we have the right to defend ourselves and the evidence is that the court is not preventing us from continuing to defend ourselves.”

Smoke rises during an Israeli air strike in Rafah on Friday. Photo: Reuters

The ICJ, which is based in The Hague, did not immediately comment on Hanegbi’s remarks. Hamas also did not immediately comment.

Another Israeli official pointed to the phrasing of the ruling by the ICJ, or World Court, depicting it as conditional.

“The order in regard to the Rafah operation is not a general order,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Reading out the ruling, the ICJ’s president, Nawaf Salam, said the situation in Gaza had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order.

“The state of Israel shall … 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,” Salam said.

That wording does not rule out all military action, the Israeli official said.

“We have never, and we will not, conduct any military action in Rafah or elsewhere which may inflict any conditions of life to bring about the destruction of the civilian population in Gaza, not in whole and not in part,” the official said.

Judge Nawaf Salam presides over the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Friday. Photo: Reuters

While the court has no means to enforce its orders, the case is a sign of Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation over its campaign against Palestinian armed group Hamas in Gaza.

Israel began its offensive in Gaza to try to eliminate Hamas after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israeli communities on October 7 last year. It has pressed on with its offensive since the ICJ ruling.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says, and much of Gaza has been devastated. About 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage on October 7, according to Israeli tallies.

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