Israel continues military offensive in Rafah after ICJ order

The Israeli army was pressing ahead with its operation in Rafah on Saturday, according to three Israeli officials, a day after the world’s highest court appeared to order Israel to “immediately” cease its military campaign in the southern Gaza city amid a growing international outcry over the offensive.

Officials did not say exactly where in the city their forces were attacking and fighting. One official said the military was still advancing slowly, but cautioned that it was too early to conclude how Israel would ultimately respond to the court order because a ground military operation needs time to change course. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Palestinian media reported that an Israeli strike had killed one person in central Rafah and that there was also fighting in the city’s eastern suburbs. Attacks were also reported in other parts of the territory, and the Israeli military confirmed that it was also continuing to operate in Jabaliya, north of Gaza.

The International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to suspend its military offensive and “any other action” in Rafah that could totally or partially destroy the Palestinian population in Rafah. Some of the court’s judges said Israel could still carry out some military operations in Rafah under the terms of its decision.

The court has few effective means to enforce its order, but the ruling adds to a growing list of measures against Israel that have undermined its international standing.

Immediately after the ruling, the Israeli government had suggested it would continue fighting in Rafah, defying a growing group of international partners who feel Israel has gone too far. He said in a written response that his military “has not taken and will not take” actions that would lead to the destruction of the Palestinian population in Rafah, saying in effect that the court’s decision has no relation to Israel’s offensive.

Israel’s offensive in Rafah has so far displaced more than 800,000 people, most of whom had already been displaced from other parts of Gaza and faced squalid conditions in their new camps. Meanwhile, Israel has continued to bomb other areas of the enclave, with fighting particularly intense in Jabaliya, where Israel believes Hamas is trying to regroup.

At a news conference Friday after the decision, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the U.N. chief is “confident” that Israel will “duly comply” with the court’s order. Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric later added that countries have “the responsibility to enact and comply” with the court’s decisions.

The court decision came as officials from Israel, the United States and Qatar (a mediator between Israel and Hamas) met in Paris to try to revive efforts to establish a ceasefire. Negotiations collapsed earlier this month, mainly because Hamas wants a permanent ceasefire while Israel wants to continue the war after a brief exchange of captives.

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