RAFAH: 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.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) also demanded the immediate release of all hostages still held by Hamas, 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.

In landmark ruling, ICJ orders Israel to ‘immediately halt’ offensive in Rafah

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.

Hamas welcomed the ICJ ruling on Rafah but criticised its decision to exclude the rest of war-torn Gaza from the order.

‘Nothing left here’

Hours after the ICJ ruling, Israel carried out strikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday while clashes between the Israeli army and Hamas continued.

Palestinian witnesses and AFP teams reported Israeli strikes in Rafah and the central city of Deir al-Balah.

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“We hope that the court’s decision will put pressure on Israel to end this war of extermination, because there is nothing left here,” said Oum Mohammad Al-Ashqa, a Palestinian woman from Gaza City displaced to Deir al-Balah by the war.

“But Israel is a state that considers itself above the law. Therefore, I do not believe that the shooting or the war will stop other than by force,” said Mohammed Saleh, also met by AFP in the central Gaza Strip city.

In its keenly awaited ruling, the ICJ said Israel 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”.

It ordered Israel to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian aid and also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Israel’s aggression has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to territory’s health ministry.

World Court to rule on request to halt Israel’s Rafah offensive

The Israeli military said the three hostages whose bodies were recovered in north Gaza on Friday – Israeli hostage Chanan Yablonka, Brazilian-Israeli Michel Nisenbaum and French-Mexican Orion Hernandez Radoux – were “murdered” during the October 7 attack and their bodies taken to Gaza.

Paris meetings

The court order comes ahead of separate meetings on the Gaza conflict in Paris between the CIA chief and Israeli representatives on one side and French President Emmanuel Macron and the foreign ministers of four key Arab states on the other.

Ceasefire talks involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators ended shortly after Israel launched the Rafah operation, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office this week said the war cabinet had asked the Israeli delegation “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages”.

CIA chief Bill Burns was expected to meet Israeli representatives in Paris in a bid to relaunch negotiations, a Western source close to the issue said.

Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes

Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron received the prime minister of Qatar and the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers on Friday “to press for a ceasefire”, according to Cairo.

The French presidency said they held talks on the Gaza war and ways to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The five countries discussed “the effective implementation of the two-state solution”, it added.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken also spoke with Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz about new efforts to achieve a ceasefire and reopening of the Rafah border crossing as soon as possible, Washington said.

‘End this nightmare’

Israeli ground troops started moving into Rafah in early May, defying global opposition.

Troops took over the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, further slowing sporadic deliveries of aid for Gaza’s 2.4 million people.

Egypt’s Sisi agrees to let UN aid through key Gaza crossing: US

But on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi agreed in a call with his US counterpart Joe Biden to allow UN aid through the other entry point into southern Gaza, the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel, the White House said.

The US military has also installed a temporary jetty on the Gaza coast to receive aid by sea that a UN spokesman said had delivered 97 trucks of aid after “a rocky start” a week ago.

The security and humanitarian situation in the territory remains alarming, with a risk of famine, hospitals out of service, and around 800,000 people, according to the United Nations, having fled Rafah in the last two weeks.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the situation had reached “a moment of clarity”.

“Aid workers and UN staff must be able to carry out their jobs in safety,” he posted on social media site X late Friday.

“At a time when the people of Gaza are staring down famine… it is more critical than ever to heed the calls made over the last seven months: Release the hostages. Agree a ceasefire. End this nightmare.”

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