Israel Pushes Deeper Into Rafah, Defying International Opinion

Israel’s military battled deeper into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, expanding its offensive into the city and driving more people out of it, while Israel faced growing international pressure and isolation over its war against Hamas.

As the fighting raged, the International Court of Justice in The Hague said it would respond on Friday to a South African petition to order an immediate halt to the ground assault in Rafah. The court, an arm of the United Nations, has no means of enforcing its orders, but a demand to rein in the invasion would add to the string of diplomatic and legal setbacks for Israel since the war began.

This week, the chief prosecutor for another world tribunal, the International Criminal Court, requested arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, along with three Hamas leaders, on charges of crimes against humanity, and three European countries announced over vehement Israeli opposition that they would recognize a Palestinian state.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders are looking first and foremost to domestic public opinion, with much of the country still viewing the war with Hamas as an existential conflict. Even while international support for Israel has eroded over its devastating military response in Gaza, Israelis have remained focused on the brutality of the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks.

The Israeli military said Thursday that it was operating in the Brazil and Shaboura areas of Rafah — about halfway between the border with Israel to the southeast and the Mediterranean coast to the northwest — to carry out what it called a limited operation against Hamas battalions in the city.

The offensive into Rafah, which once held more than a million Palestinians forced out of other parts of Gaza, could be a crucial test of Israel’s relations with the United States, its most important ally and one of the most steadfast.

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