South Africa urges ICJ to consider action on Israel’s planned Rafah assault

World Court asked to order additional emergency measures ahead of an assault on Gaza city crammed with displaced people.

People inspect the damage in the rubble of buildings damaged during Israeli bombardment in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. - Israel announced on February 12 the rescue of two hostages in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where the Hamas-run health ministry said "around 100" Palestinians including children were killed in heavy overnight air strikes. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
People inspect damage caused by an Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [Said Khatib/AFP]

South Africa says it has asked the World Court to consider whether Israel’s plan to extend its offensive in the Gaza Strip into the densely populated southern city of Rafah requires additional emergency measures to protect Palestinians.

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

Israel has denied all allegations of genocide in connection with its assault on Gaza and asked the court to reject the case outright, saying it respects international law and has a right to defend itself against Hamas, the group that governs Gaza.

Israel said it is planning to expand its ground assault into Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians have sought refuge from the offensive that has laid waste to much of the enclave since Hamas fighters attacked Israel on October 7.

“In a request submitted to the court yesterday [Monday], 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,” a statement issued by South Africa’s presidency said.

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

There was no immediate comment from The Hague-based ICJ.

In past cases, the ICJ has sometimes granted additional emergency measures when circumstances on the ground had changed.

‘Additional measures’

The court has not yet ruled on the core of the case brought by South Africa – whether genocide has occurred in Gaza. But it recognised the right of Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide.

The court also ordered Israel to allow in much-needed humanitarian aid, including fuel.

Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Johannesburg, said there has always been questions about whether the original order by the ICJ would be followed.

“While the order was given, there’s always been concern around monitoring and implementation and if Israel would pull back, which we haven’t seen yet,” Miller said.

“South Africa is saying Israel is already in breach of the order, which was given several weeks ago, and … wants the court to put in place additional measures,” she added. “South Africa is asking for a declaration that would ultimately protect Palestinian lives.”

The day South Africa filed its request, Israeli forces attacked 14 houses and three mosques in Rafah, killing dozens of people and prompting hundreds of displaced families to flee.

On Tuesday, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Ismail Abu Omar and photojournalist Ahmed Matar were wounded in an Israeli drone attack in the Miraj area, north of Rafah. The area had been designated a “safe zone” by the Israeli military, causing Palestinians from across Gaza to flee there.

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 28,473 people, more than 70 percent of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials.

About 80 percent of the population has been displaced, and a humanitarian catastrophe has pushed more than a quarter of the population towards starvation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies