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South Africa has urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Israel to halt its assault on the southern city of Rafah in Gaza, as part of its case accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians. The country filed a case in January seeking additional emergency measures over Israel’s offensive on Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians had sought shelter from Israeli attacks on other parts of the enclave. South Africa argued that the people of Palestine are facing ongoing annihilation, and the assault on Rafah is part of an endgame in which Gaza is ultimately destroyed.

Despite explicit warnings of potential genocidal consequences, Israel is pressing on with its attacks in Rafah. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant stated that the operation would continue with additional forces entering the area. Rafah is a crowded city where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living in tents, facing the rapid spread of diseases, severe lack of food, and clean water. The only hospital in the area has shut down, leaving a small facility overwhelmed.

Judges at the ICJ have issued provisional measures in the past, ordering Israel to take actions to limit humanitarian suffering in Gaza. One provision required Israel to ensure basic food supplies reach Palestinians in Gaza without delay, as many are facing severe hunger and famine due to the total siege imposed by Israel. The recent closure of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing by the Israeli army has hindered humanitarian aid operations. South Africa highlighted that if Rafah falls, so does Gaza, as the city is the primary hub for humanitarian assistance.

South Africa has asked the ICJ to order Israel to cease its military operations in Gaza and immediately withdraw from the territory. It also requested unimpeded access to Gaza for UN officials, aid groups, journalists, and investigators. Israel has been accused of ignoring and violating earlier court orders, and South Africa emphasized that the country’s aim of wiping Gaza off the map is on the verge of becoming a reality. The lawyers argued that Israel’s declared safe zones were a cruel distortion, as people were too starved to flee and those who did were sometimes attacked by Israeli forces.

Half a million Palestinians have been displaced in recent days due to Israel’s ground and aerial campaign in Gaza, with at least 35,000 people killed. The ICJ hearings on emergency measures will focus on stopping the assault on Rafah, and it will likely take years before the court rules on the merits of the genocide case. The court’s rulings are binding and without appeal, and while there is no way to enforce them, an order against a country could damage its international reputation and set legal precedents for future cases. The situation in Rafah highlights the urgent need for action to protect the lives of Palestinians and prevent further humanitarian crises in Gaza.

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