World Has Betrayed Gaza Civilians: Rights Groups

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Agence France-Presse

World Has Betrayed Gaza Civilians: Rights Groups

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A Palestinian waves the national flag as he stands near the border wall between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, during a protest calling for an end of Israel blockade to the Gaza Strip, in this April 10, 2008 file photo. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Files)

JERUSALEM - The world has "betrayed" civilians in the Gaza Strip by failing to end a blockade of the Hamas-run enclave, 16 rights groups, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, said Tuesday.

"The international community has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade which is preventing reconstruction and recovery," said the report.

Israel and Egypt have allowed only vital humanitarian aid into the territory since the Islamist Hamas seized power there in June 2007.

"It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there for the acts of a few," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.

"World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza's ordinary citizens. They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction."

The groups said that Israel had allowed only 41 truckloads of construction materials into Gaza since a devastating 22-day war launched by the Jewish state nearly a year ago ended with mutual ceasefires on January 18.

"Little of the extensive damage the offensive caused to homes, civilian infrastructure, public services, farms and businesses has been repaired" because of the shortages, the report said.

Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the war, which flattened portions of Gaza, an impoverished territory where the vast majority of the population relies on foreign aid.

Israel controls all but one of Gaza's border crossings, the Rafah terminal with Egypt, which Cairo rarely opens.

"Sick, traumatised and impoverished people are being collectively punished by a cruel, illegal policy imposed by the Israeli authorities," said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.

"Israel's responsibility to protect its citizens does not give it the right to punish every man, woman and child of Gaza," she added.

The groups also urged rival Palestinian factions to create a unified government capable of delivering aid, and said militant groups should refrain from rocket attacks from Gaza.

"Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, too, must maintain their current de facto cessation of violence and permanently cease all indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel," Hobbs wrote.

The report called on European foreign ministers to visit Gaza to see the damage for themselves and urged the EU to do all it can to lift the blockade.

Other groups signing the report include: Broederlijk Delen, CAFOD, CCFD Terre Solidaire, Christian Aid, Church of Sweden, Diakonia, Finn Church Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, medico international, medico international schweiz, Mercy Corps, MS ActionAid Denmark, Trocaire, and United Civilians for Peace.

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