Israel has cut off the supply of electricity, fuel and humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza, a move Amnesty International has condemned as collective punishment.
With the blockade likely to lead to a public health emergency, Amnesty International called for an immediate lifting of the blockade on fuel, humanitarian aid and basic necessities, as well as other restrictions that have effectively prevented entry or exit of people and goods from the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control in the territory in June 2007.
"More than 40 seriously ill patients have died since the Israeli authorities closed Gaza's borders last June, denying them access to hospital treatment abroad," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme director. "Now the entire Gaza population is being out at risk as electricity, fuel and other supplies run out."
Amnesty International acknowledged Israel's right to take measures to protect its population from rocket and other attacks by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, but condemned the Israeli authorities' decision to cut off essential supplies to Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants.
"This action appears calculated to make an already dire humanitarian situation worse, one in which the most vulnerable -- the sick, the elderly, women and children -- will bear the brunt, not those responsible for the attacks against Israel," said Malcolm Smart.
Electricity and fuel, which have already been in short supply in Gaza for some time due to the Israeli blockades, are used to pump water. Shortages in these supplies have disastrous consequences for the health and well-being of a population already facing insufficient supplies of clean water for drinking and personal hygiene, as well as inadequate sewage treatment and waste disposal.
Without power, the population is unable to refrigerate already scarce food and medicines, which are getting spoilt. Critically ill patients in urgent need of medical treatment that is not available in Gaza are prohibited from leaving Gaza and some 40 have died in recent months as a result.
The Israeli authorities cite unspecified "security" reasons, but have proposed no alternative, proportionate means of addressing security concerns. The closure by Israel of Gaza's border with Egypt since early June, Gaza's only border crossing, has left the population effectively trapped and cut off from the outside world.
Patients are prevented from travelling to other countries for medical care and traders and students are denied the possibility to leave Gaza to take advantage of employment and education opportunities elsewhere.
The already stringent Israeli blockade imposed on the passage of goods into and out of Gaza has forced most of Gaza's population to live below the poverty line and depend on international aid. Amnesty International says that further tightening of the blockade will only prolong and worsen the paralysis of Gaza's economy.
"Now, even crucial aid is not allowed to reach those that need it most in Gaza. These measures must be stopped and the passage of aid, fuel and electricity and other basic necessities must be allowed to resume immediately," said Malcolm Smart.