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Israel/Occupied Territories: Translate hope

Israel/Occupied Territories: Translate hope into a durable reality

As Israeli and Palestinian officials at the highest levels resume negotiations and pledge to work for peace, the recent reduction in violence raises hopes for an end to the spiral of violence that has claimed so many lives.

Amnesty International calls on the Israeli and Palestinian leaders meeting today in Sharm al-Sheikh to translate these renewed hopes into a durable reality where rights of Palestinians and Israelis alike are respected and protected.

The stated commitment by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to work to end the cycle of violence, attacks and counter-attacks must be followed by swift and concrete measures.

Both sides must work resolutely to bring about fundamental changes in the systems and mechanisms which have allowed unlawful killings and other grave human rights violations to take place with impunity. Amnesty International reiterates its call for the leaders to ensure that the protection of human rights lies at the heart of the measures now taken.

Palestinian armed groups and Israeli soldiers and settlers must be left in no doubt that they will be held accountable for violations they commit or participate in. To that end the judicial authorities on both sides must undertake to carry out prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into human rights abuses and to bring those responsible to justice in fair trials.

This will require a change in the conduct of the authorities, who have too often looked away when the victims are from "the other side", perpetuating a climate of impunity in which abuses have proliferated.

In the past four and a half years more than 3,000 Palestinians, including some 600 children, have been killed, most of them unlawfully, by Israeli soldiers. Yet Israeli soldiers have routinely escaped prosecution for such crimes. In the same period, Palestinian armed groups have killed more than 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians and including more than 100 children, but the Palestinian Authority has not prosecuted those responsible for such crimes. This pattern of impunity must be broken.

In addition, Israel must also put an immediate end to the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and must take measures to evacuate Israeli settlers who are living in these settlements in violation of international law.

The Israeli government's "disengagement plan" to evacuate some 7,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip later this year is a welcome step in the right direction, but it should not divert attention from the situation in the West Bank, where the presence of some 400,000 Israeli settlers causes untold suffering to the Palestinian population.

The stringent restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank in order to keep them away from Israeli settlements, which make it impossible for some 1.8 million Palestinians to lead normal lives and to carry out ordinary every day activities, must be lifted.

Amnesty International also reiterates its call on Israel to stop the unlawful destruction of Palestinian homes, land and other properties, and to halt the construction of a 600-kilometre fence/wall inside the West Bank. These unlawful measures have rendered tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless and countless more destitute.

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