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UN independent panel rules Israel blockade of Gaza illegal

Report to UN Human Rights Council by five independent UN rights experts contradicts findings of Palmer Report that Israel used ‘unreasonable force’ in 2010 raid on Gaza flotilla, but that naval-blockade of Gaza legal.

Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip violates international law, a panel of human rights experts reporting to a UN body said on Tuesday, disputing a conclusion reached by a separate UN probe into Israel’s r aid on a Gaza-bound

aid ship.

The so-called Palmer Report on the Israeli raid of May 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists said earlier this month that Israel had used unreasonable force in last year’s raid, but its naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled strip was legal.

A panel of five independent UN rights experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council rejected that conclusion, saying the blockade had subjected Gazans to collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The four-year blockade deprived 1.6 million Palestinians living in the enclave of fundamental rights, they said.

“In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel’s closure policy towards Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians,” they said in a joint statement.

An earlier fact-finding mission named by the same UN forum to investigate the flotilla incident also found in a report last September that the blockade violated international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions.

Israel says its Gaza blockade is a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

The four-man panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer found Israel had used unreasonable force in dealing with what it called “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”

Turkey has downgraded ties with Israel over the incident.

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and one of the five experts who issued Tuesday’s statement, said the Palmer report’s conclusions were influenced by a desire to salve Turkish-Israeli ties.

“The Palmer report was aimed at political reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. It is unfortunate that in the report politics should trump the law,” he said in the statement.
About one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, said Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, another of the five.

At least two-thirds of Gazan households lack secure access to food, he said. “People are forced to make unacceptable trade-offs, often having to choose between food or medicine or water for their families.”

The other three experts were the UN special rapporteurs on physical and mental health, extreme poverty and human rights, and access to water and sanitation.

* First published 20:28 13.09.11 By Reuters

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News Occupation News

UN refugee agency marks 5 years of Gaza siege

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — “If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed,” a UNRWA spokesman said Tuesday as the UN marks Gaza’s fifth year under intense Israeli siege.Commenting on a report released by the UN agency charged with providing care and services for the one million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, on the fifth anniversary of the siege, spokesman Chris Gunness added “it has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region.”According to UNRWA, wages in Gaza fell 34.5 per cent since the first half of 2006, while unemployment reached 45.2 percent in the second half of 2010.

“These are disturbing trends,” Gunness said, “and the refugees, which make up two thirds of Gaza’s 1.5 million population were the worst hit in the period covered in this report. It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.”

In June 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections. At the end of July that same year, militants in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier. In retaliation for the capture, and spurred by distrust for Hamas following its election win, Israeli forces entered the West Bank and abducted eight Hamas ministers and 21 party lawmakers from their homes and offices. Imports and exports into and out of Gaza were scaled down to a fraction of normal levels in an attempt to pressure the ruling party Hamas to return the soldier.

Hamas, negotiating on behalf of the factions which captured the soldier, are demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for his release.

Israel tightened the siege, restricting access to coastal fishing waters in October 2006, reducing the fishing limit from 20 nautical miles down to six. Then following Israel’s offensive on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the fishing limit was reduced to three nautical miles, effectively quashing the industry.

Imports between 2006-2010 were restricted to a short list of goods, with reports suggesting calculations had been made to import only the minimum necessary food supplies to sustain the population. After an international aid flotilla sailed to Gaza in June 2010 and Israeli commandos shot and killed nine of the activists on board, world outcry against the siege prompted a slight easing, with more commercial goods permitted in.

Prohibitions on industrial goods and building materials remain, however, making reconstruction of the 6,000 homes destroyed during Israel’s winter offensive impossible without intervention from international agencies.

Israel says materials used in construction of homes could be used to manufacture weapons.

A massive tunnel import industry grew in the southern Gaza Strip after the blockade was imposed, allowing building materials, cars foodstuffs and weapons to be brought into Gaza. The goods are too expensive for most Palestinians in the Strip to afford.

Exports of goods and produce from Gaza have effectively been stopped, with only a few hundred loads of strawberries and carnations having been exported to Europe under a Dutch government program since the imposition of the siege.

During the past five years, UNRWA noted in its report, that the private sector had been hit particularly hard in comparison with the public sector. While private businesses were forced to cut nearly 8,000 jobs in the second half of 2010, the Hamas dominated public sector grew by nearly three percent over the same period.

“Our research indicates that since 2007, Hamas has been able to increase public employment by at least one-fifth,” said Gunness. “Even more striking, in what should have been a relatively good year for the Gaza private sector with the supposed easing of the blockade, the public sector generated 70% of all net job growth as between second-half 2009 and second-half 2010.”

UNRWA has stated that it will continue to operate in the health and education sectors in Gaza, with some 213,000 children currently attending UNRWA run schools. However, the report stated that since the start of the blockade, the number of people living on less than one dollar a day has tripled to nearly 300,000 since the blockade was imposed.

“With many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval, the future looks bleak” Gunness said.

 
* Frist published Tuesday 14/06/2011 (updated) 23/06/2011 20:11 Maan News Agency
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