Gazans cut off after Egypt seals border
Following the re-sealing of the Gaza-Egypt border on 3 February, Amnesty International is concerned about the increasingly difficult human rights situation and living conditions of some 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. "Egypt has the right to secure its border with Gaza, but a return to the situation whereby the Gaza-Egypt border – Gazans' only means of passage to the outside world – is completely sealed, as it has been for the past seven months, is not acceptable," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "Whatever agreement about the management of the border is reached between the governments of Israel and Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza, it must respect fully the fundamental rights of the population of Gaza." With the exception of the 10-day period after the breaching of the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah by Palestinian militants on 23 January, the entire 1.5 million population of the Gaza Strip has been locked down since June 2007. Even patients in urgent need of medical care not available in Gaza have been denied passage out of Gaza by the Israeli authorities. Dozens of those who were unable to leave Gaza for medical care abroad have died in recent months. In the past few days, hundreds of patients who have been waiting to leave Gaza for months and who crossed into Egypt through the breached border were allowed by the Egyptian authorities to access hospitals there or travel to other countries to obtain treatment. However, many more remain in Gaza and now, once again, are unable to leave. Medical facilities in Gaza lack the specialized staff and equipment to treat a range of serious and life-threatening conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular illnesses. In recent months, a lack of spare parts for hospital equipment and increasingly frequent power cuts have further reduced the capacity of hospitals and health clinics. The Israeli authorities continue to maintain a stifling blockade on Gaza, which prevents the passage of essential goods, including medical supplies and humanitarian assistance, into and out of Gaza. Prior to the tightening of the Israeli blockade on Gaza last June, an average of 250 trucks of goods entered Gaza daily, but between 18 and 29 January the Israeli authorities permitted only 32 truckloads of goods into Gaza. UN agencies and humanitarian organizations have complained for months that the Israeli blockade prevents them from delivering adequate quantities of aid to satisfy the growing humanitarian needs of the population of Gaza. Most of Gaza’s population is living in abject poverty and has been forced to depend on international humanitarian assistance as a result of the Israeli blockade, which has destroyed the local economy. The Israeli government claims that the tightening of the blockade on Gaza is in response to the frequent firing of home-made rockets by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza into neighbouring areas in southern Israel. On 30 January, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition by 10 Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations seeking to stop the Israeli government from cutting supplies of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip. Israel has a right to take measures to protect its population from Palestinian rocket attacks, which target Israeli civilians and violate international law. However, its imposition of such a punitive blockade on Gaza’s entire population for the action of some Palestinian militants constitutes collective punishment and violates international humanitarian law. Amnesty International is renewing its call on the Israeli authorities to lift its blockade on Gaza and to expedite access to medical care for patients in need of urgent medical treatment not available in Gaza. It is urging Hamas, as the de-facto administration in Gaza, to put an immediate end to the firing of rockets – by its own militias and by other armed groups.It is urging Israel, the Egyptian Government and the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza and the international community to work constructively for a solution that ensures the security of the civilian population in Israel, Egypt and Gaza, and that ensures that the rights of 1.5 millions of Palestinians in Gaza are respected.