"If anything, existing evidence discloses a harsher regime of confinement and siege imposed on the Gazan population," Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, told the General Assembly's third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) yesterday.
He said Palestinians continue to face difficulties in obtaining exit permits to receive specialized medical treatment in Israel or elsewhere that is not available in Gaza.
"Such delays and denial of permission has resulted in a growing number of tragic deaths, severe mental and physical suffering, and constitutes a violation of the duty of the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and well-being of the population under occupation, with exceptions only to the extent absolutely necessary for upholding security.
"These restrictions appear unrelated to credible security claims, and hence a punitive form of collective punishment, which is consistent with the overall maintenance of the siege that has been applied to Gaza since July 2007."
In a report submitted to the General Assembly in August, Mr. Falk summarized evidence gathered from "best available open sources" and observations during a private visit to Israel in July that included a short trip to Ramallah, as well as nearby Israeli settlements. The Special Rapporteur, who was appointed in May, has not been able to arrange an official visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and is "seeking the cooperation of the Government of Israel", he said.
The Special Rapporteur, in his statement, also expressed concern that the Annapolis Joint Statement of 27 November 2007 - intended to reinvigorate the peace process, to commit Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinians and to freeze settlement activity - had not been fulfilled.
The report details the deepening health crisis confronting the Palestinians living under occupation, including mental and physical ailments. The precariousness of the health system due to insufficient medical supplies and shortage of medical equipment and parts was also highlighted.