Sanctions Causing Gaza to Implode, say Rights Groups

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living through their worst humanitarian crisis since the 1967 war because of the severe restrictions imposed by Israel since the Islamist movement Hamas seized power, a report says today.

Movement is all but impossible and supplies of food and water, sewage treatment and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted. The economy has collapsed, unemployment is expected to rise to 50%, hospitals are suffering 12-hour power cuts and schools are failing - all creating a "humanitarian implosion", according to a coalition of eight UK humanitarian and human rights groups.

The data was collated before the recent escalation in Hamas rocket fire and Israel's incursion, which saw 106 Palestinians, at least half of them civilians, killed in five days alone. One Israeli civilian and two soldiers were killed in the same period.

The situation in Gaza is "man-made, completely avoidable, and with the necessary political will can be reversed", say the groups, which include Oxfam, Amnesty and Save the Children.

In Jerusalem yesterday the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said she had received assurances from Israeli and Palestinian leaders that they would resume the peace negotiations suspended by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, after the Gaza offensive. Rice gave no time frame but said Abbas had not made the resumption conditional on a ceasefire.

The NGOs said that while Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians had seen a "long-term pattern of deterioration" stemming from decades of occupation and from sanctions on Hamas, "the severity of the humanitarian situation has increased exponentially due to the Israeli government's imposition of the blockade in response to indiscriminate rocket fire against Israel".

The depth of the crisis was underlined by last month's mass breakout across the border into Egypt and by the latest violence. Israel has reportedly asked UN agencies to examine opening up "humanitarian corridors", possibly anticipating further large-scale military action to suppress Palestinian rocket fire.

The report challenges the Israeli argument that Israel is no longer bound by the laws of occupation since it "disengaged" from Gaza in summer 2005.

It also urges the UK and EU to condemn the blockade and calls on Tony Blair, representing the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers (the US, EU, UN and Russia), to make a statement on the extent of the humanitarian crisis. Israel and the Palestinians should agree to reopen the crossings into the strip and both sides should halt attacks, the report says.

Geoffrey Dennis, chief executive of Care International UK, said: "The escalation in violence, from rocket attacks and military strikes, will make life even more unbearable in Gaza. Unless the blockade ends now it will be impossible to pull Gaza back from the brink of this disaster and any hopes for peace will be dashed."

The appeal follows a report by John Dugard, the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories, in which he described Palestinian terrorism as the "inevitable consequence" of Israeli occupation and laws that resemble apartheid. Palestinian terrorist acts are to be deplored but "must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation", wrote Dugard, whose report accused Israel of acts and policies consistent with all three. Israel dismissed his conclusions as one-sided and inflammatory.

(c) 2008 The Guardian

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