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

The principal United Nations court stated that the humanitarian situation in Rafah had “deteriorated further” since its previous court order for Israel to improve it, adding that the situation there was described as “disastrous”.

This follows an emergency request from South Africa to the ICJ for it to order Israel to stop its assault on Rafah. 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.”

In January, the African nation formally accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during a hearing at the United Nations court. During opening arguments, a lawyer for South Africa said the latest war is part of decades of Israeli oppression. Israel has vehemently denied the accusations.

It is believed that Israel is unlikely to comply with the latest ICJ order. Israel claims it has no choice but to attack Rafah to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed both to eliminate Hamas and to recover all the hostages taken in the 7 October attacks.

“Hamas is in Rafah, Hamas has been holding our hostages in Rafah, which is why our forces are manoeuvring in Rafah. We’re doing this in a targeted and precise way,” Israeli chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Thursday. However, the US – Israel’s most powerful ally – has threatened to scale back its support over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court – a separate court also based in The Hague – announced on Monday that 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.

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