Gaza: 31 killed in fresh attacks as Israel says World Court ruling does not rule out Rafah offensive

Taoiseach condemns bombing of enclave after order from UN’s top court to ‘immediately halt’ operations in area

Israeli forces killed more than 30 people in new attacks in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medics said on Saturday, the day after judges at the top United Nations court ordered Israel to halt its offensive on the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Though Israel pressed on with its offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, mediated negotiations between the two sides are due to restart next week, an official with knowledge of the matter said.

The decision on talks was taken after the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar, said the source, declining to be identified by name or nationality given the sensitivity of the matter.

“At the end of the meeting, it was decided that in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement,” the source said.


Hamas did not immediately comment on the status of talks.

After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and an end to the war.

Fighting has continued in Gaza despite the mediation and despite judges at the top United Nations court ordering Israel on Friday to immediately halt its military assault on Rafah, where it says it is trying to root out Hamas fighters.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), or World Court, has no means to enforce its emergency ruling in case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

But the case was a stark sign of Israel’s global isolation over its campaign in Gaza, particularly since it began its offensive against Rafah this month against the pleas of its closest ally, the United States.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says, and much of Gaza has been devastated. About 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage on October 7th, according to Israeli tallies.

The Israeli military said it had carried out “operational activity in specific areas of Rafah” on Friday, including killing militants, dismantling part of Hamas’ tunnel system, and locating stashes of weapons.

Further north in the coastal territory, where the Israeli military says it is trying to prevent Hamas from re-establishing its hold, Palestinian medical workers reported Israeli air strikes that they said killed at least 17 people.

A total of 31 Palestinians were killed in the past day in the Gaza Strip, according to local medical officials. They do not distinguish between civilian and militant casualties.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the smaller armed group Islamic Jihad said their fighters had fired anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli troops in the north.

Residents and civil emergency services said Israeli tanks entered deep into the area of Jabilia, destroying dozens of houses, shops, and roads.

The Israeli military said its troops in Jabilia “eliminated dozens of terrorists in close-quarters combat and aerial strikes.”

Palestinian medical teams were unable to reach the area, where they believed more people were killed.

Israel has said it is carrying out operations in Rafah, despite growing international opposition, to remove Hamas battalions holed up there. Some of its hostages are also being held there, it says.

The city had become a refuge for Gazans fleeing fighting elsewhere in the enclave. After Rafah became a target as well, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the city.

“The occupation forces keep the city under bombing, not only east where they invaded but at the centre and the western sides, they want to scare people to leave the whole city,” said one Rafah resident, who asked not to be named.

So far, fighting has taken place on Rafah’s southern edge and eastern districts, away from the most populated areas. The United States, has called on Israel not to enter more central neighbourhoods, saying Israel has yet to show a credible plan for how this can be done without causing mass casualties.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Israeli officials said Israel considers that an order by the ICJ, to halt its military offensive on Rafah in southern Gaza allows room for some military action there.

“What they are asking us, is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel’s N12 TV on Saturday.

Asked whether the Rafah offensive would continue, Hanegbi said: “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.”

Another Israeli official pointed to the phrasing of the ruling by the ICJ, or World Court, depicting it as conditional.

“The order in regard to the Rafah operation is not a general order,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, Taoiseach Simon Harris condemned Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip, including Rafah, a day after the ICJ made its ruling.

Mr Harris said Saturday’s bombing was “utterly reprehensible”.

“The fact that Netanyahu persists in ignoring [the ICJ] is a cause of grave concern,” Mr Harris said.

The ICJ also instructed Israel on Friday to keep open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which Israel closed before sending troops and tanks into the besieged city and crossing earlier this month. – Reuters