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World welcomes ICJ ruling to halt Rafah offensive but US response pending

Several countries have embraced the World Court's ruling but an official US response was still missing hours after hearing
International Court of Justice orders Israel to 'immediately halt' offensive in Rafah, as part of South Africa's request for a Gaza ceasefire in The Hague, on 24 May (Koen van Weel/AFP)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday ruled that Israel must immediately halt any military offensive on Rafah. The order was approved 13 votes to two by the justices on the court, with Uganda and Israel dissenting. 

President of the ICJ, judge Nawaf Salam, said in his reading of the ruling that “Israel must immediately halt its military offensive of 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.”

The ruling says that Israel needed to reopen the Rafah crossing and "ensure the unimpeded access of commissions of inquiry or investigative bodies mandated by the UN to investigate allegations of genocide".

The decision comes two weeks after South Africa asked the ICJ to order additional emergency measures against Israel over its military assault on Rafah in the Gaza Strip. 

The world is steadily reacting to the decision, but Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Norway are amongst a range of countries that have already welcomed the World Court's decision. 

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"No country in the world is above the law. We expect all decisions taken by the Court to be quickly implemented by Israel," the Turkish foreign ministry said. 

"Egypt stresses that Israel bears full legal responsibility for the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip as the occupying power," Egypt's foreign ministry of foreign affairs, tweeted. 

Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that she expects all parties to follow international law.

"We will have to choose between our support to international institutions of the rule of law or our support to Israel," the European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell said in reply to the ruling. 

Hamas also welcomed the ICJ's decision but stressed that Israel must halt its military offensive in all of Gaza. The group welcomed the court's request to allow investigation committees into the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Authority spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said "the presidency welcomes the decision issued by the International Court of Justice, which represents an international consensus on the demand to stop the all-out war on Gaza".

Israel reacted to the ruling with outrage. Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Israel has no intention of following the ICJ's decision, and will continue fighting in Rafah - and added that it is already in line with international law. 

Within hours of the ruling, videos emerged depicting Israel launching multiple missiles on a packed residential neighbourhood in Rafah on Friday. The videos could however not yet be independently verified by Middle East Eye. 

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that Israel will not agree to stop its war on Gaza, as that would be tantamount to it "decree[ing] itself to cease to exist".

Pending reply from US 

The Biden administration did not immediately comment on the ICJ’s order on Friday by the time of publication, or the renewed calls to suspend arms transfers to Israel, and it's unclear what the official response from the Biden administration will look like.

While Washington has spoken out strongly against Israel's "genocide case" at the ICJ, it has repeatedly said that it will not support a "full-scale" ground invasion of Rafah without a credible plan from Israel on how to minimise civilian suffering.

"The whole world is taking action to stop the genocide of Palestinians, including the International Court of Justice. Where is President Biden’s red line?" American Palestinian Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wrote on X. 

"As far as I’m concerned, the ICJ can go to hell," Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham tweeted. "This will and should be ignored by Israel."

Graham is a pro-Israel congressman who has received $1,000,580 from pro-Israel lobbying groups since 1990.

The Council on American Islamic Relations "applauded" the decision and called on the Biden administration "to honor the ruling by stopping all military aid to Israel", in a post on X. 

Amnesty International also reiterated the call to halt the Rafah offensive. 

"The ground incursion and the associated mass forced displacement it has caused, pose further irreparable risk to the rights of the Palestinian people protected under the Genocide Convention,” Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa said. 

“The Israeli authorities must completely halt military operations in Rafah, as any ongoing military action could constitute an underlying act of genocide.”

Such calls were joined by other civil rights groups, including Democracy for the Arab World Now, with executive director Sarah Leah Whitson saying the ICJ's order “leaves no ambiguity about what should follow: an arms embargo on Israel”.

Since 7 May, Israel has led a ground offensive into Rafah, defying international calls, including from the Biden administration, not to proceed. 

The Israeli assault has deepened an already perilous humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, with vital aid routes, through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, blocked. More than 810,000 people have fled Rafah in the past two weeks, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Monday. 

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