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5 January 2009

UN Security Council must not fail civilians caught in Gaza conflict

Amnesty International today urged the UN Security Council to take firm and decisive action to address the increasingly grave situation in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.  

“Civilian casualties and destruction in Gaza are on an unprecedented scale. The UN Security Council must not remain silent. The Council can and must act and it should do so without further delay,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
 
There are growing concerns about the safety of the civilian populations in the area, particularly the 1.5 million Palestinians who are trapped in the Gaza Strip and facing a spiralling humanitarian crisis amid continuing Israeli attacks and after many months of blockade.

"The UN Security Council has a key responsibility to help ensure that the parties to the conflict respect international human rights and humanitarian law," said Malcolm Smart.  “It is imperative that the Council urgently adopt a strong resolution condemning attacks against civilians by both Israel and Hamas and demanding that such attacks cease immediately.”

Amnesty International said the UN Security Council should urge Israel to lift restrictions on the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza -- medicines, food, fuel and other necessities urgently required to alleviate civilian suffering -- and to allow humanitarian and human rights workers and journalists unfettered access to Gaza.

"With only a few exceptions, humanitarian workers and journalists have been barred from Gaza by the Israeli military since early November," said Malcolm Smart. “Their presence now is urgently required to independently assess humanitarian needs and report on the situation on the ground, including abuses of international law.”

Amnesty International also urged the UN Security Council to consider the deployment of international monitors.

“Civilians on both sides continue to pay a heavy price, which might be alleviated if international monitors were to be deployed whose functions should include verifying compliance with international law by both Israel and the Palestinian administration in Gaza,” said Malcolm Smart.

Background
More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes and other attacks since 27 December. Those killed include more than 100 unarmed civilians, including scores of children, as well as some 165 civilian police taking no part in the conflict. More than 2,000 Palestinian civilians have been injured. While many Israeli attacks have targeted and killed Palestinian combatants, including leaders of Hamas, other attacks have been directed at civilian buildings not being used for military purposes. They have targeted civilians such as police cadets, or have been disproportionate, recklessly endangering civilians and causing a mounting toll of civilian casualties. The number of civilian casualties is expected to increase further as a result of the ground incursion by Israeli forces which began on 3 January and the use of heavy weaponry in densely populated civilian areas.

In the same period, five Israelis have been killed, including three civilians killed in rocket attacks launched by Palestinian armed groups from the Gaza Strip.
 
Those killed in Israeli air strikes include:

• Eight-year-old Abed Rabbo al-Astal, his 12-year-old brother Muhammad and their 10-year-old cousin ‘Abd-al-Sattar, killed on the afternoon of 2 January while playing near their home in al-Qarara village, east of Khan Yunis (southern Gaza). 
• Thirteen-year-old Sujud Dardsawi was fatally wounded on 2 January while in her home in the Shaja’iya district of Gaza City.
• Ihab al-Madhoun, a medical doctor, and Muhammad Abu Hasida, a paramedic accompanying him, were killed on 31 December as they were trying to evacuate people wounded in an earlier attack in eastern Gaza City. The air strike also damaged their ambulance.
• A night watchman/guard was killed on 3 January when the International School (commonly known as the American School, though it has no link to the US government), in the north of Gaza, was destroyed by an Israeli air strike. Known as one of the best private educational institutions in Gaza, the school provided education to hundreds of children from kindergarten to age 12.

As well as air strikes, Israeli forces have also used artillery – which is notoriously inaccurate and should never be used in densely populated areas – including from gunboats ranged along the Gaza coast.
 
Leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft over Gaza have warned residents to leave the area, although they are physically prevented from doing so, causing panic and confusion among the population.  Like the telephone calls made by the Israeli military to Palestinians warning them to leave their homes to escape attack, the leaflets seem to be random and dropped all over Gaza. 
 
One Gaza resident, a supporter of the Fatah party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Amnesty International:

“My children see the leaflets and go crazy with fear, they want to leave home; but we have nowhere to go.  My family and my wife’s family live close to the border, in even more dangerous areas; and we can’t just stay outside, it is equally dangerous, children have been killed walking or playing in the street.  There is no electricity, we can’t even find food, and we are not safe even in our homes.  We have nothing to do with Hamas, I’ve been detained and harassed by Hamas, but the Israeli bombardments are indiscriminate. No one is safe”  
 
The last two weeks of fighting have increased the humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, in force continuously since June 2007. The UN and international aid agencies report that there is an acute shortage of food and most basic necessities. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Israeli bombardments have damaged water supply lines making it difficult for some families to obtain access to safe drinking water, and hospitals are running short of key medicines and depend on unreliable generators for their power. The Gaza Pediatrics’ Hospital reported that most of its windows have been smashed by the blasts and plastic sheets are being used to block the cold.  An air strike on 2 January damaged a pipe supplying water to 30,000 residents of Nuseirat Refugee Camp, south of Gaza City.  Continuous Israeli strikes also make attempts to carry out repairs extremely dangerous.

Region Middle East And North Africa
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