Aid groups, UN protest Israeli sanctions move on Gaza

An Israeli cabinet decision on 19 September, which declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity" and which would allow the state to cut fuel and electricity supplies to the enclave, has been immediately condemned by aid and human rights organisations.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned "such a step would be contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law".

The people of Gaza are "already suffering from the impact of prolonged closure" and they should not be punished for the "unacceptable" actions of militants who fire rockets into Israel, Ban said.

The Israeli cabinet announced it would further restrict the passage of goods into Gaza and reduce power supplies. "Restrictions will also be placed on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip." However, there is "the intention to avoid a humanitarian crisis".

The decision, which has not yet been implemented, came a week after an Israeli military base was hit by Gazan rockets, leaving around 60 soldiers wounded.

''...such a step would be contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law.''

The decision was harshly condemned by the Palestinian caretaker government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as by Hamas in Gaza, which described it as a "declaration of war".

Two rockets hit southern Israel shortly after the cabinet decision was announced.

What the decision could mean

Currently, only food and medical supplies are generally allowed in and all exports are banned. Construction materials are blocked, while it took several weeks and international pressure to allow paper for printing school books to arrive.

Movement of civilians is also already severely limited, and Gaza's Rafah Crossing to Egypt, has been closed since June. Further restrictions would likely ban even limited access to Israel.

Humanitarian concern

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the decision is in line with international law and "it's not going to affect the humanitarian needs of the population in the Gaza Strip."


Photo: Tom Spender/IRIN
Palestinians wait in a queue at Beit Iba checkpoint in Gaza

However, Oxfam International disagreed.

"Reducing the fuel supplies to a bare minimum [will] only increase the suffering of one and a half million people in Gaza, and constitutes collective punishment," said Jeremy Hobbs, the group's executive director, adding it would be "immoral and contrary to the Geneva Conventions".

Cutting power, legal experts said, would not distinguish between civilians and militants.

Israel maintains it has very limited responsibility for the Gaza Strip since its 2005 redeployment of troops and settlers from the territory. Amnesty International, however, believes the Jewish state, is "ultimately responsible for ensuring the welfare of the… Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip", since it "retains effective control" over the area.

The Israeli human rights group Gisha said the decision was "dangerous, because operating rooms, emergency services, sewage pumps and water wells cannot run without electricity".

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