Israel strikes Rafah after top UN court orders it to halt offensive

GAZA: Israel bombed the Gaza Strip, including Rafah, on Saturday, a day after the top UN court ordered it to halt military operations in the southern city as efforts get underway in Paris to seek a ceasefire in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) also demanded the immediate release of all hostages still held by Palestinian militants, hours after the Israeli military announced troops had recovered the bodies of three more of the captives from northern Gaza.

The Hague-based court, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, also ordered Israel to keep open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which it closed earlier this month at the start of its assault on the city.

Israel gave no indication it was preparing to change course in Rafah, insisting that the court had got it wrong.

“Israel has not and will not carry out military operations in the Rafah area that create living conditions that could cause the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part,” National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a joint statement with Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, welcomed the ICJ ruling on Rafah but criticised its decision to exclude the rest of war-torn Gaza from the order. Hours after the ICJ ruling, Israel carried out strikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday while clashes between the Israeli army and the armed wing of Hamas continued.

Mediated Israel-Hamas talks on hostage deal expected next week

Mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas to reach a deal to free Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip are due to restart next week, an official with knowledge of the matter said on Saturday.

The decision to restart the talks, said the source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality given the sensitivity of the issue, was taken after the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar, which has been a mediator.

“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.

Efforts to achieve the release of more than 120 hostages abducted during Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel within the framework of a ceasefire deal have so far fallen short.

Both sides have blamed the other for the deadlock. Israel has said it cannot accept Hamas’ demand to end the war, while the Palestinians want Palestinian prisoners to be released by Israel.

Israel has said it wants to eliminate Hamas, which governs Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the war has raged for more than seven months, devastating much of Gaza.

 

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