newsIsrael at War

IDF troops to press ahead in Rafah, Gallant says after ICJ ruling

Bombardments continued in the central and eastern sections of the city, Hamas's last stronghold in Gaza.

An Israeli tank during operational activity in the Gaza Strip, May 25, 2024. Credit: IDF.
An Israeli tank during operational activity in the Gaza Strip, May 25, 2024. Credit: IDF.

The Israel Defense Forces will continue to press its offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza in order to free the hostages held by Hamas and destroy the terrorist group, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Sunday.

“Our goals in Gaza are emphasized here in Rafah: to destroy Hamas, return the hostages and maintain freedom of operation,” Gallant stated during a visit to troops fighting in the last remaining Hamas stronghold.

“Regarding the hostage issue—we are making tremendous efforts and will continue to do so, via both physical activities and by reaching agreements,” added the defense minister.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to troops during an operational situation assessment in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip, May 26, 2024. Photo by Ariel Hermoni/IMoD.

Gallant told troops, “Remember, your job is to eliminate Hamas, to win this war. Our job is to take it [your achievement] and take it to the next level in Gaza and across the Middle East. These issues are connected.”

Israeli officials insist that the military operations in the enclave are being conducted in conformity with Friday’s International Court of Justice ruling.

Bombardments continued on Sunday in the central and eastern sections of Gaza’s southernmost city, including the shelling of entrenched terrorist elements in the Yabna refugee camp, the Palestinian Shehab News Agency reported.

Sunday also saw a 12-rocket barrage fired by Hamas terrorists in Rafah at central Israel, triggering sirens in Tel Aviv and surrounding areas for the first time in four months and reaching further north to the Sharon region. Most of the projectiles were intercepted or hit in open areas, with at least one civilian lightly wounded by rocket shrapnel in Herzliya.

Shortly before the afternoon salvo, the IDF said that two rocket launchers in the Rafah area aimed at Kerem Shalom in southern Israel were struck overnight Saturday.

Since Friday, Israeli forces had eliminated a terror cell in Rafah that fired at troops and killed other terrorists who attempted to attack soldiers, located and destroyed several tunnel shafts and seized weapons caches, according to the IDF.

An IDF soldier during operational activity in Rafah, southern Gaza, May 21, 2024. Credit: IDF.

The ICJ, the U.N.’s principal judicial arm, ruled by 13 to 2 on Friday that the Jewish state must “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 her dissenting opinion, ICJ Vice President Julia Seubtinde said that South Africa, which brought the case before the court, had failed to present substantially new facts on the ground in Rafah.

The court shouldn’t attempt to “micromanage” Israel’s military operations, wrote Seubtinde, noting that the Jewish state has been increasing aid flow into Gaza and that the court hasn’t previously required a sovereign state to allow outside observers in during a war.

“Israel’s ongoing military operations in Rafah are part of the broader conflict initiated by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas attacked Israeli territory, killing citizens and abducting others,” wrote Sebutinde. “To maintain its judicial integrity, the court must avoid reacting to every shift in the conflict and refrain from micromanaging the hostilities in the Gaza Strip, including Rafah.”

Speaking with Channel 12 News on Saturday, Israel’s National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi noted that the court’s ruling does not require Israel to halt its operation in Rafah.

“What they are asking us is not to commit genocide in Rafah,” said Hanegbi. “We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide,” he added.

Israel has a right to self-defense under international law, he continued, “And the evidence is that the court is not preventing us from continuing to defend ourselves.”

Another Israeli official was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying that the phrasing of the ruling was conditional.

“The order in regard to the Rafah operation is not a general order,” the official said.

Israel began a limited operation in the eastern part of Rafah on May 6, taking operational control of the border crossing with Egypt as well as the section of the Salah al-Din Road in the city. Israeli forces have killed terrorists, seized weapons and unearthed hundreds of tunnels in the city so far, including 50 smuggling tunnels crossing into Egypt.

The operation has recently expanded to other areas of Rafah, including Yabna, Brazil and Shaboura.

According to the IDF, nearly a million noncombatants have been evacuated from the city to humanitarian zones.

After opposing a full-scale invasion of Rafah for months, including threatening to withhold arms shipments, the Biden administration softened its stance last week after being presented with evidence that Jerusalem was addressing its humanitarian concerns.

Jerusalem insists that the Rafah operation, where four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are entrenched, is essential to defeating the terror group, which has vowed multiple repeats of the Oct. 7 atrocities.

The four Hamas battalions in Rafah are Yabna (South), Shaboura (North), Tel Sultan (West) and East Rafah.

Israeli forces are also still active elsewhere in the Gaza Strip, with the Air Force attacking more than 50 terrorist targets across the enclave over the past 24 hours and ground forces killing terrorists in central Gaza and locating dozens of rocket parts and weapons in a munitions warehouse next to a school complex in Jabalia in northern Gaza.

“This is further evidence of the Hamas terrorist organization’s systematic exploitation of civilian infrastructure for its military activities,” the IDF said.

On Sunday afternoon, the IDF announced that a soldier of the Kfir Infantry Brigade’s Netzach Yehuda Battalion died from wounds sustained during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip last week.

Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach, 20, from Jerusalem, was wounded last Wednesday when a Hamas sniper opened fire at troops who were operating in the Beit Hanoun area of northeastern Gaza to root out the remaining terrorists entrenched there.

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