EU demands Israel comply with ICJ ruling on Rafah

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European diplomats have demanded Israel comply with an order from the International Court of Justice to “immediately halt” its offensive in Rafah, the southern Gazan town that became a refuge for more than 1mn civilians after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “everybody agrees that the rulings of the International Court of Justice are binding, and they have to be implemented”.

Despite the order, Israeli forces continued to operate in Rafah at the weekend, and on Sunday more than 35 people were killed and dozens more were injured in a UN-run “safe zone” in the city’s Tal as-Sultan neighbourhood, after what authorities in Gaza said were Israeli air strikes.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said there were “reports of mass causalities including children and women among those killed” in the “horrifying” incident, which triggered fires in the crowded tent city that housed people who had fled the fighting elsewhere in the enclave.

“Gaza is hell on earth. Images from last night are yet another testament to that,” it said.

Israel’s military prosecutor on Monday described the incident as “very difficult” and that Israel was investigating the events. The Israeli military had previously said it targeted a “Hamas compound” in the area.

Borrell’s call for the ICJ order to be implemented were echoed by Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and Spain’s José Manuel Albares. Albares said the ministers would discuss how to “take the right measures to enforce that decision”.

The UN’s top court ordered Israel on Friday to “immediately halt its military offensive, and 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”.

“Unhappily, what we have seen in the immediate hours is that Israel has continued the military action that it has been asked to stop,” Borrell said, noting that Hamas also continued to fire rockets at Israel. “This is really a dilemma, how the international community can . . . force the implementation of the decision of the ICJ.”

Israeli officials have repeatedly insisted that an operation in Rafah is necessary to defeat Hamas, and Tzachi Hanegbi, the country’s national security adviser, claimed on Saturday that the wording of the order was not a blanket prohibition on Israeli forces operating in Rafah.

“What they are asking us, is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” he said in an interview with Israel’s N12 TV.

“According to international law, we have the right to defend ourselves and the evidence is that the court is not preventing us from continuing to defend ourselves.”

The ICJ’s order capped a week of diplomatic setbacks for Israel, during which three European states said they would recognise Palestine this week, and the prosecutor at the separate International Criminal Court sought arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three senior Hamas leaders.

Borrell said the work of the ICC had to be “respected” and defended the prosecutor, Karim Khan, who faced intense criticism from Israel and its allies for his decision to seek warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant.

“We have to . . . let the court decide without intimidation what it thinks about this initiative of the prosecutor. Unhappily, this is not the case. The prosecutor and the court have been strongly intimidated and accused of antisemitism,” said Borrell. “The accusation of antisemitism against the prosecutor of the ICC is completely not acceptable.”


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