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Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Civilians Must Be Protected in Gaza and Southern Israel

GAZA - Amnesty International calls on Israeli
forces and Palestinian armed groups to immediately halt the unlawful
attacks carried out as part of the escalation of violence which has
caused the death of some 280 Palestinians and one Israeli civilian
since December 27. 

 This is the highest level of Palestinian fatalities and casualties
in four decades of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Scores of unarmed civilians, as well as police personnel who were not
directly participating in the hostilities, are among the Palestinian
victims of the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip. 

"Such disproportionate use of force by Israel is unlawful and risks
igniting further violence in the whole region," said Amnesty
International. "The escalation of violence comes at a time when the
civilian population already faces a daily struggle for survival due to
the Israeli blockade which has prevented even food and medicines from
entering Gaza."

"Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, for their part, share
responsibility for the escalation. Their continuous rocket attacks on
towns and villages in southern Israel are unlawful and can never be
justified," Amnesty International said.

"The international community must intervene without delay to ensure
that civilians caught up in the violence are protected and that the
blockade on Gaza is lifted."

This latest Israeli onslaught brings the number of Palestinians
killed by Israeli forces this year to some 650, at least a third of
whom are unarmed civilians, including 70 children. In the same period,
Palestinian armed groups have killed 25 Israelis, 16 of them civilians,
including four children. In the past eight years the
Israeli-Palestinian violence has cost the lives of some 5,000
Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis. Most of the victims on both sides have
been unarmed civilians, including some 900 Palestinian and 120 Israeli

In recent weeks UN agencies, on whose food handouts 80 percent of
Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants depend, have repeatedly complained about
the Israeli authorities' refusal to allow humanitarian assistance into

The Israeli blockade meant that the recent five-and-a-half-month
ceasefire between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in
Gaza, Gaza residents experienced little or no improvement to their
lives. The ceasefire effectively ended after six Palestinian militants
were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza force on 4 November and a barrage
of Palestinians rockets were launched on nearby towns and villages in
the south of Israel.


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