CAIRO, May 24 (Reuters) - Israeli forces stepped up military strikes on Gaza on Friday, residents and medics said, with planes bombing targets in the southern city of Rafah even as the U.N.'s top court ordered Israel to halt its offensive there.

Heavy fighting was also reported in Jabalia, in the north, where Israel's military said it had recovered the bodies of three hostages killed during the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 that triggered the war.

In Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge, residents reported intensifying aerial and ground bombardment in the south and centre of the city that borders Egypt.

As the fighting raged, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, said the situation in Rafah was now "disastrous" and ordered Israel to "immediately halt its military offensive".

The ruling was in response to a request by South Africa in part of a wider case accusing Israel of genocide.

Israel has repeatedly dismissed that accusation as baseless and had signalled it would ignore any ruling to halt its offensive by the court, which has no enforcement powers. It says it has no choice but to attack Rafah to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there.

Residents and Palestinian media reported a series of strikes hitting roads and houses in the Shaboura neighbourhood in central Rafah shortly after the ICJ ruling was read out in The Hague.

Israel launched its assault on Gaza following a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and saw more than 250 hostages seized, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israel's incursion has killed more than 35,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities.

Photo from Reuters