Josep Borrell
Josep BorrellReuters

European Union top diplomat Josep Borrell accused Israel of ignoring the International Court of Justice's order by continuing military activity in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

At a meeting with EU foreign ministers, Borrell demanded that Israel implement the ruling by withdrawing its troops from Rafah and ending all military operations in the city and that the EU would examine how to ensure that the ruling is implemented.

In its ruling on Friday, the ICJ ordered that 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."

The wording is ambiguous, and while Borrell has chosen to interpret the order as mandating that Israel end all military activity in Rafah, this interpretation is disputed by legal scholars, including four judges on the court, who have stated that the order is limited in what it prohibits Israel from doing in Rafah.

ICJ Vice President Julia Sebutinde of Uganda wrote on Friday, "This measure does not entirely prohibit the Israeli military from operating in Rafah. Instead, it only operates to partially restrict Israel's offensive in Rafah to the extent it implicates rights under the genocide convention."

Judge Sebutinde cautioned against misunderstanding the court's order as "mandating a unilateral ceasefire in Rafah" and "restricting Israel's ability to pursue its legitimate military objections, while leaving its enemies, including Hamas, free to attack without Israel being able to respond."

Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak, who has represented Israel at the ICJ in the case South Africa brought against the Jewish State, wrote, "This measure requires Israel to halt its military offensive in the Rafah Governate only in so far as is necessary to comply with Israel's obligations under the genocide convention."

Barak added, "Israel is not prevented from carrying out its military operation in the Rafah Governate as long as it fulfills its obligations under the genocide convention. As a result, the measure is a qualified one, which preserves Israel's right to prevent and repel threats and attacks by Hamas, defend itself and its citizens, and free the hostages."

Judge Georg Nolte of Germany wrote that “The measure obliging Israel to halt the current military offensive in Rafah is conditioned by the need to prevent ‘conditions of life that could bring about [the] physical destruction in whole or in part’ of the Palestinian group in Gaza.”

Romanian Judge Bogdan Aurescu wrote, "In my view, this measure needs to be interpreted that it indicates as well the halt of the Israeli military offensive to the extent that it 'may inflict n the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.'"

The Israeli government has interpreted the ICJ order in this manner so that the military operation in Rafah can continue while obeying the order.