Skip to main content

War on Gaza: South Africa urges ICJ to intervene to halt Israel's Rafah offensive

International pressure rises over Israel's planned attack on area where more than half of Gaza's population is packed
People gather for a rally calling on Israel to stop its Rafah invasion in Gaza at Union Square on 12 February 2024 in New York City (Michael M Santiago/AFP)

Foreign pressure has begun to mount on Israel over its planned invasion of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, with aids groups warning of catastrophe if it goes ahead.

Italy and France are among those voicing concern, while South Africa made an urgent request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to consider whether Israel's decision to extend its military operations in Rafah required that the court use its power to prevent further breaches of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

The population of Rafah - which spans just 150km squared - has increased fivefold since war broke out on 7 October and is now home to at least 1.5 million displaced Palestinians

The majority are living in makeshift homes and tents, after being forcibly ejected by Israel from northern and central areas of Gaza in recent months.

With more than 28,473 Palestinians killed across Gaza already in just over four months of fighting, aid groups have warned of the disastrous consequences of an attack on Rafah.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"There hasn't been a safe place for Palestinians for months," Ahmed Bayram, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s regional media and communications adviser, told Middle East Eye. 

"Even Rafah had come under bombardment repeatedly. The safe routes and zones that Israel unilaterally designated as it announced relocation orders have seen bloodshed and repeated attacks.

"Civilians have exhausted all options. Rafah was their last resort and now there is nowhere safe to flee to."

War on Gaza: Rafah ground invasion raises fears of aid collapse and ethnic cleansing
Read More »

In its appeal to the ICJ, South Africa cited section 1 of Article 75 of the Rules of Court, which says the court "may at any time decide to examine proprio motu whether the circumstances of the case require the indication of provisional measures which ought to be taken or complied with by any or all of the parties."

Last month, the ICJ denied Israel's request to drop the case brought by South Africa, mandating that Israel halt any possible acts of genocide and secure proof of such actions. 

The court also ordered Israel to prevent genocide against Palestinians, penalise any encouragement of it, immediately facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to the population in Gaza, and provide a report within a month detailing the measures it has implemented in response to these directives.

More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed since the ICJ told Israel to do its best to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. 

International pressure

International criticism of Israel has continued to mount, particularly as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares his attack on Rafah.

In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his intent to carry out an imminent ground incursion on the area. 

"We’re going to do it. We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah," he said.

He added that it would be done while providing “safe passage for the civilian population”, details of which he said Israel was "working out".

Op-Ed Video: Activists airdrop aid to Gaza amidst severe blockades
Read More »

But these assurances have failed to convince a number of foreign officials.

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Tuesday that his country now considered Israel’s bombing of Gaza to be "disproportionate" and warned that there had been "too many victims who have nothing to do with Hamas".

France meanwhile called for 42 people, mainly residents or colleagues from the Institut Francais, in Rafah, to be evacuated with their family members on Tuesday.

"We remain fully mobilised to enable the departure of other people whose situation France is monitoring in Gaza, so that they may be evacuated to our country," the French foreign ministry said.

"We repeat that Israel must take practical measures to protect the lives of civilians in Gaza, and reiterate our call for an end to the fighting."

At least 67 Palestinians were killed in Israeli air and sea attacks on Rafah early on Monday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

Volker Turk, the UN’s human rights chief, has also raised alarm over the anticipated Israeli ground assault on Rafah, saying it would be “terrifying".

According to a report from Amnesty International, Israel has previously carried out air strikes on Rafah in December, after a humanitarian pause had ended, and in January, killing at least 95 civilians, including 42 children, at a time when it was supposedly the "safest" area in the strip. 

West Bank flare up

The Israeli military announced on Tuesday that its forces arrested a Hamas member, identified as Omar al-Fayed, in the West Bank city of Jenin.

The military said that they had coordinated with the Shin Bet and opened fire on an unidentified gunman during the operation.

War on Gaza: Who are the Israeli settlers sanctioned by the US government?
Read More »

An army statement said Fayed was involved in several recent shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and planning other attacks.

Tensions have flared in the occupied West Bank since 7 October, with Israeli settlers carrying out repeated attacks on Palestinians. 

Israeli troops and settlers have since killed at least 390 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.

The French foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that it would impose sanctions on Israeli settlers who use violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.

"France will impose sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers who are guilty of violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank ... 28 individuals will be banned from entering French territory," added the foreign ministry, Reuters reported.

The French announcement comes a day after the United Kingdom said it was sanctioning four "extremist Israeli settlers" accused of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The United States had already announced sanctions against one of them, as well as three others, earlier this month over "intolerable" violence.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.