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South Africa launches ‘urgent request’ to UN court over Israel’s military operations in Rafah

South Africa has asked the UN’s court to consider whether Israel’s plan to extend its offensive in Gaza into the city of Rafah needs additional emergency measures to protect Palestinians’ rights in an urgent request.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month told Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, in a case brought by South Africa.

The court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, and is yet to rule on the core of the case: whether genocide has occurred in Gaza.

Israel has denied all allegations of genocide in its war with Gaza’s ruling Palestinian Islamist group. The country asked the ICJ to reject the case outright, saying it respects international law and has a right to defend itself.

But on Tuesday, a statement issued by South Africa’s presidency said: “In a request submitted to the court yesterday, the South African government said it was gravely concerned that the unprecedented military offensive against Rafah, as announced by the state of Israel, has already led to and will result in further large-scale killing, harm and destruction.

Palestinians sit by the destruction from the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah (AP)
Palestinians sit by the destruction from the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah (AP)

“This would be in serious and irreparable breach both of the Genocide Convention and of the Court’s Order of January 26.”

It comes after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his army to prepare a dual plan to evacuate and attack Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge from the offensive that has laid waste to much of the Gaza Strip since Hamas’s assault on 7 October.

Earlier on Tuesday, officials said Israel and Hamas were making progress towards a deal that aims to bring about a ceasefire and free hostages held in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip as key meetings continue between the sides in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

US president Joe Biden has been calling on Mr Netanyahu to hold off the invasion until a plan is in place that would prevent massive civilian casualties. The pair spoke on Sunday morning, days after Mr Biden said Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip had been “over the top”.

Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his army to prepare plans to evacuate and attack Rafah on Friday (Getty)
Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his army to prepare plans to evacuate and attack Rafah on Friday (Getty)

Mr Netanyahu’s office has said that it has ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there.

But on Saturday morning, air strikes in Rafah killed at least 44 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and left a trail of destruction.

And on Monday morning, an attack targeting a district in Rafah killed 67 people, according to local officials. It also saw an Israeli hostage rescue mission free two captives held in the town, which sits on the Egyptian border.

The Palestinian foreign ministry in the West Bank has condemned Israel’s continued attacks on Rafah. On Twitter/X, it said: “Israel is officially continuing to target civilians and transfer the war to Rafah to push the population to get displaced under bombardment.

“The recent massacres of the occupation are evidence of the validity of international warnings and fears of catastrophic results of the expansion of the war to Rafah.”

World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern at the attack on Rafah and reiterated calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

And in the UK, leading bishops in the Church of England have said Israel must stop its “relentless bombardment” of Gaza, adding that the manner in which the war is taking place “cannot be morally justified”.

It came after foreign secretary David Cameron said it is “impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people; there is nowhere for them to go”.