The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to stop its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The top United Nations court said the humanitarian situation in Rafah had “deteriorated further” since its previous court order for Israel to improve it, adding that what was happening there was “disastrous”.

It comes after South Africa put in an emergency request to the ICJ for it to order Israel to stop its Rafah assault.

The ICJ president Nawaf Salam said: “The state of Israel shall… immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The court also ordered Israel to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow in humanitarian aid, and said Israel must provide access to the besieged territory for investigators and report back on its progress within a month.

The order was adopted by a panel of 15 judges from around the world in a 13-2 vote, opposed only by judges from Uganda and Israel.

It was handed down a week after it was requested by South Africa, which in January formally accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in a hearing at the UN court.

More on Israel-hamas War

During opening arguments, a lawyer for South Africa said the latest war is part of decades of Israeli oppression.

Israel, which claims that its operations in Gaza are in self defence, has vehemently denied the accusations.

ICJ president Nawaf Salam announces the judgment in The Hague. Pic: Reuters

The ICJ is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states, and its rulings are final and binding but have been ignored in the past.

The court has no enforcement powers and it is believed that Israel is unlikely to comply with the latest ICJ order.

Israel says it has no choice but to attack Rafah to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it thinks are hiding there.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to both eliminate Hamas and get all the hostages back who were taken in the October 7th attacks.

“Hamas is in Rafah, Hamas has been holding our hostages in Rafah, which is why our forces are manoeuvering in Rafah. We’re doing this in a targeted and precise way,” Israeli chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Thursday.

But the US – Israel’s most powerful ally – has threatened to scale back its support over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Israel launched its assault on Rafah this month, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee a city that had become a refuge to around half of the population’s 2.3 million people.

In previous rulings in January and March, the court ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians and allow aid to flow into Gaza, while stopping short of ordering a halt to Israeli military operations.

Also in January, the ICJ called on Hamas to release hostages it captured on October 7th.

Follow Sky News on WhatsApp
Follow Sky News on WhatsApp

Keep up with all the latest news from the UK and around the world by following Sky News

Tap here

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court – a separate court also based in The Hague – announced on Monday he had filed an application for arrest warrants against Mr Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant, as well as leaders of Hamas.

Prosecutor Karim Khan accused Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant of crimes including extermination, using hunger as a weapon and deliberately attacking civilians. Israel strongly denied the charges.