Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Civilians must be protected in Gaza and Southern Israel
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 children.
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 Gaza.
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.