16 February 2024

UN court rejects South African request for urgent measures to safeguard Rafah

16 February 2024

The top UN court rejected a South African request to impose urgent measures to safeguard Rafah in the Gaza Strip but also stressed that Israel must respect earlier measures imposed late last month at a preliminary stage in a landmark genocide case.

The International Court of Justice said in a statement that the “perilous situation” in Rafah “demands immediate and effective implementation of the provisional measures” that it ordered on January 26.

It said no new order was necessary because the existing measures “are applicable throughout the Gaza Strip, including in Rafah.”

The world court added that Israel “remains bound to fully comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention” and the January 26 ruling, which ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza.

Citing UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the court noted that “the most recent developments in the Gaza Strip, and in Rafah in particular, ‘would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences'”.

Israel has identified Rafah as the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza and vowed to continue its offensive there.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s population, has crammed into the city, most of them displaced people who fled fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Israel has said it will evacuate the civilians before attacking, though international aid officials have said there is nowhere to go due to the vast devastation left behind by the offensive.

South Africa announced on Tuesday that it had lodged an “urgent request” with the International Court of Justice to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting the southern Gaza city of Rafah breach provisional orders the court handed down last month in a case alleging genocide.

On Thursday, Israel urged the world court to reject what it called South Africa’s “highly peculiar and improper” request.

Israel strongly denies committing genocide in Gaza and says it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas militants.

It says Hamas’ tactic of embedding in civilian areas makes it difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

Even so, last month the court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has laid waste to the Palestinian enclave.

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