THE HAGUE, Netherlands (NEWSnet/AP) — The top United Nations court ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its military operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — but stopped short of insisting on a full cease-fire.

Israel is unlikely to comply with the order.

The International Court of Justice rules in disputes between nations.

Criticism of Israel's conduct in the war in Gaza has been growing, particularly on operations in Rafah. This week alone, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for another U.N. court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, along with Hamas officials.

Netanyahu is also under heavy pressure at home to end the war, which began Oct. 7. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations calling on the government to reach a deal to bring the hostages home, fearing that time is running out.

While the ruling by the International Court of Justice is a blow to Israel's international standing, the court does not have a police force to enforce its orders.

Ahead of the ruling, Israel signaled it, too, would brush off an ICJ order to stop its operations. “No power on earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza,” Avi Hyman, the government spokesperson, said in a press briefing Thursday.

The court also ordered Israel to keep the Rafah crossing into Egypt open “for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

The court did not call for a full cease-fire throughout Gaza as South Africa, which brought the case, had requested at hearings last week.

Israel rejects the claims by South Africa, a nation with historic ties to the Palestinian people.

International Criminal Court action

 

Separately, the U.N. International Criminal Court handles charges against individuals it considers most responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

On Monday, its chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said he has asked ICC judges to approve arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three top Hamas leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Israel is not an ICC member, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution.

But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

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