UN's top court orders Israel to halt military offensive - what will it mean for Gaza?

The International Court of Justice doesn't have any real power to stop Israel but when it speaks many nations listen, ITV News Correspondent Chloe Keedy reports from Tel Aviv

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled Israel must immediately halt military operations in Gaza's southern city of Rafah, following an urgent plea from South Africa.

On Friday, the UN's top court cited the risk of "physical destruction" to the Palestinian group as the reason for the decision.

Earlier this month, more than 80,000 people were said to have fled Rafah after Israeli tanks mounted at the border.

The majority of those who evacuated the area had already been displaced due to the Israeli offensive.

Rafah has been one of the focal points of the war due to it being one of the only access points for land-supplied aid. Fears grew for the squeeze placed on humanitarian aid as a result of the renewed Israeli attention on Rafah.

Israel claims Hamas militants are hiding in the city.

“Israel must immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in Rafah which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part," said Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the ICJ.

Earlier this year, South Africa produced a comprehensive legal document accusing Israel of committing acts that are "genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group".

In January, ICJ judges 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 offensive.

In a second order in March, the court said Israel must take measures to improve the humanitarian situation.

Israel’s offensive - sparked by Hamas' October 7 attack where 1,200 people were killed and 250 abducted - has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, and has caused a humanitarian crisis.

“This may well be the last chance for the court to act,” Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of South Africa’s legal team, told judges last week.

Israel rejects the claims by South Africa.

Can a ruling against Israel be enforced by the ICJ?

The ICJ has broad powers to order a ceasefire and other measures, but it does not have its own enforcement apparatus.

Israel is unlikely to comply with any such order.

In another case on its docket, Russia has so far ignored a 2022 order by the court to halt its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa and Israeli agents put forwards cases to see whether Israel needs to take additional measures to alleviate suffering in Gaza. Credit: AP

Why has South Africa brought forward the case?

As one of 153 signatories to the Genocide Convention, South Africa is entitled to file such a case with the ICJ.

The convention, which was ratified on December 9, 1948, represented the international community's commitment to "never again" repeat the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Mathu Joyini previously told an Emergency Special Session of its General Assembly that because of South Africa's "painful past experience" of a system of apartheid, "this impresses on us, as Member States to take action in accordance with international law".

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