JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's international relations department on Friday hailed as ground-breaking a ruling by the International Court of Justice that ordered Israel to halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Judges at the World Court earlier on Friday backed a South African request to order Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah, a week after Pretoria called for the measure in a case accusing Israel of genocide.

Israel has repeatedly dismissed the case's accusations of genocide as baseless, arguing in court that its operations in Gaza are self-defence and targeted at Hamas militants who attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

"South Africa welcomes the ruling made by the court today. ... This order is ground-breaking as it is the first time that explicit mention is made for Israel to halt its military action in any area of Gaza," Zane Dangor, director-general of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said in a video clip shared by the department.

"This is de facto calling for a ceasefire. It is ordering the major party in this conflict to end its belligerent action against the people of Palestine," Dangor added.

(Reporting by Tannur Anders; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Alexander Winning)