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OPT: Al Mezan calls the international community to evade an imminent humanitarian crisis in Gaza

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Al Mezan Center for Human Rights is gravely concerned by the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. Given the security conditions and the procedures enforced by Israel and the international community, a momentous humanitarian crisis appears imminent. Israel - which controls Gaza's land crossings, air space and territorial water - has completely sealed Gaza off and enforced full-scaled 'economic' sanctions prohibiting all monetary transfers.

There is an increasing concern about the availability of food and other life-saving materials in Gaza soon. The United Nations Agencies working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) warned of food shortage unless Gaza border crossings re-open. According to Al Mezan's monitoring, Karni crossing, which is the only cargo inlet in Gaza, has been closed since 13 June 2007. Relief agencies were allowed by Israel to enter convoys of 8 trucks of food through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Karni handles 200 to 300 trucks daily; mainly part of trade activity. As the recent experience indicated, the opening of crossing points solely for relief aid cannot be an answer to the expected crisis.

Hospitals and clinics have reported shortage in medicines and fuel. So far, those facilities have been able to function with the help of the World Health Organization and the ICRC. Nevertheless, a crisis is at the door if the borders and urgent medical aid. Gazans who are in need for care that is not available in Gaza are also in urgent need for access through these crossings.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been denied access to life-saving health care in Israel and Egypt owing to the closure of Erez and Rafah crossings. Only a few cases of critical health cases have been allowed access to hospitals through Erez since 13 June 2007. Thousands of Gazans have been trapped in Egypt; many of whom suffer health problems.

A series of closures by Israel and sanctions by Israel and the international community have caused accelerated collapse of Gaza's economy. As a result, Gaza saw consistent increase in the rates of poverty and unemployment. A May poll indicates that 80% of Gazans live under the poverty line. This is expected to have increased in June. UNRWA reported that 88% of the refugee population in Gaza is poor.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights asserts the following:

1. The current situation Gaza lives is the result of a prolonged policy of closure and sanction by Israel and the international community. The crisis is not a result of a natural disaster or unavoidable conditions, but is an inevitable result of man-made decisions favoring political interests over human rights.

2. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) bears clear obligations towards the security and welfare of its population in Gaza. It must act upon these obligations.

3. Israel cannot exempt itself from the responsibilities incumbent upon it by virtue of its control and occupation of OPT, including Gaza, and bears the ultimate responsibility towards the safety and wellbeing of Gazans. In the minimum, Israel bears a clear negative obligation not to interfere, by commissions or omissions, in Palestinians' - and the international community's - arrangements to alleviate the humanitarian crisis or to ensure respect and fulfillment of human rights.

4. The international community also bears obligations towards the population of Gaza. Those extend beyond simply the provision of humanitarian aid. The international community is called on to ensure that its conduct does not infringe upon Gazans' internationally recognized human rights.

Therefore, in order to alleviate of the humanitarian conditions of Gaza's civilian population, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights calls for:

1. Israel re-opens Gaza's border crossings, especially Karni and Rafah crossings for the movement of goods and people without delay. Allowing the entry of relief aid to Gaza does not constitute a sufficient solution to the crisis.

2. Israel and the international community remove the sanctions, which prevented Palestinian tax and custom monies from the PNA, and have limited development cooperation to the provision of humanitarian aid.

3. The United Nations to act upon its obligations and take the necessary steps to assist the civilian population and help ensure access of goods and people in and outside Gaza.

4. The donor countries to conduct human rights impact assessment studies before employing policies or sanctions that would harm civilians and extend their suffering.