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Palestine:Israel must facilitate not hinder relief


Israel/Occupied Territories: Israel must facilitate, not hinder, relief for the occupied population

Amnesty International today expressed deep concern for the health and well-being of some 600,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip, and called on Israel to immediately lift unlawful and disproportionate restrictions on movement which are hampering relief efforts by humanitarian organizations.

Yesterday the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced that it had stopped distribution of emergency food aid to the refugees following restrictions introduced by Israeli authorities at the sole commercial crossing through which UNRWA can bring in humanitarian assistance.

"Israel, as the occupying power, must take immediate measures to comply with international law and ensure that the basic needs of the Palestinian population, including access to food, are met," said Amnesty International.

"Israel has consistently failed to meet these obligations for decades, leaving the international community to shoulder the burden of providing food, medical care, education, and shelter for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

In the past three years, Palestinians' ability to work and earn a living has been dramatically reduced by unprecedented stringent restrictions imposed by Israel on their movements within the Occupied Territories. This has caused a dramatic increase in unemployment and poverty. According to the World Bank and UN agencies, two out of three Gazan households now live below the poverty line. Chronic malnutrition is spreading, especially amongst children.

Although restrictions on movement have most affected Palestinians, international humanitarian and human rights workers have been frequently prevented from carrying out their duties because of restrictions imposed on their movements by the Israeli authorities. Only last week, UN agencies in the Occupied Territories protested the increased restrictions on their movements and activities.

Background

Israel's duties as an Occupying Power in the Gaza Strip and West Bank under international law include ensuring food and medical supplies to the occupied population, ensuring and maintaining medical services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, and ensuring that medical personnel can carry out their duties.

Articles 55, 56 and 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention)stipulate that Israel allows and facilitates relief on behalf of the occupied population. Article 60 clarifies that relief provided by others in no way relieves the occupying power of any of its responsibilities under the above-mentioned Articles.

The Israeli army has dramatically restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. Passage is limited to selected personnel of intergovernmental and international humanitarian and human rights organizations. Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are only allowed entry into Israel in exceptional cases, and goods are subjected to strict and lengthy security checks and restrictions.

Restrictions were increased following a Palestinian suicide bomb attack which killed 10 Israeli civilians at the Israeli port of Ashdod on 14 March. This was the first time since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000 that Palestinians from the Gaza Strip carried out an attack inside Israel. The attackers are believed to have reached Israel from the Gaza Strip by hiding in a container.

For the latest information on the crisis in Israel and the Occupied Territories visit http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maab6IUaa5GDebb0hPub/

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