A top United Nations court has opened a hearing on Israel’s operation in Rafah after a request from South Africa. The African nation is requesting Israel halt its offensive in the Southern Gaza city of Rafah.

It is the fourth time South Africa has asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for emergency measures since the nation launched proceedings alleging that Israel’s military action in its war with Hamas in Gaza amounts to genocide.

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“The sitting is open,” said ICJ President Nawaf Salam.

According to the latest request, the previous preliminary orders by The Hague-based court were not sufficient to address “a brutal military attack on the sole remaining refuge for the people of Gaza.”

Israel has portrayed Rafah as the last stronghold of the militant group, brushing off warnings from the United States and other allies that any major operation there would be catastrophic for civilians, according to a report by The Associated Press. 

South Africa has recently asked the court to order Israel to withdraw from Rafah and to take measures to ensure unimpeded access for U.N. officials, humanitarian organizations, and journalists to the Gaza Strip. They also want the U.N. to report back within one week on how it is meeting these demands.

During hearings earlier this year, Israel, which is backed by the United States, strongly denied committing genocide in Gaza and said it does all it can to spare civilians and is only targeting Hamas militants. It says Hamas’ tactic of embedding in civilian areas makes it difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

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This war began after Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7th, 2023.  During that attack, Palestinian militants killed around 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages. Gaza’s Health Ministry says over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in its count.

Israel continues to reiterate that its goal is the total elimination of Hamas, the terrorist group that carried out the attack that started this war.

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