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International relief agencies condemn military actions in Palestinian territories

International relief agencies condemn military actions in Palestinian territories

In an unprecedented move, the heads of United Nations relief agencies and other major international humanitarian organizations today jointly condemned Israel's military actions in the occupied Palestinian territory, saying the consequences of such tactics were worsening the humanitarian crisis to unmatched proportions.

In a statement that expressed their collective "deep dismay and outrage," the heads of the organizations, meeting in Rome, said recent events have demonstrated "continuing disregard for the protection of civilians" amid increasing incidences of the flagrant disrespect of international law and the security of humanitarian personnel.

"This is a humanitarian crisis without precedent in its destructive impact on the Palestinian people and their institutions," said the statement, issued by the heads of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; the UN Development Programme, the UN Population Fund; the UN Children's Fund; the UN High Commission for Refugees; the World Food Programme; the World Health Organization; and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

"The likely long-term consequences of this crisis for stability and durable peace are a cause for major concern," warned the statement, which was also signed by the leaders of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; the International Council on Voluntary Agencies and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response.

Strongly deploring the restrictions on humanitarian access in the occupied Palestinian territory, the agency leaders said the obstructions placed on humanitarian workers have led to unnecessary suffering and, in some cases, death. "In particular, the detention of medical workers and ambulances has prevented access to the wounded, in gross violation of basic humanitarian principles," they said.

The statement also condemned suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians as "morally repugnant," but stressed that self-defence against such acts did not free Israel of its obligations under international humanitarian law or justify derogation from internationally recognized human rights.

"We strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force against civilian populations," the agency leaders said. "We call for full respect of international humanitarian law, with assurances for the protection of civilians, and insist on the necessity of full freedom of movement of humanitarian workers."

According to the statement, the increased demand for emergency medical assistance was precipitating a medical crisis, while the destruction of houses was leaving thousands homeless and without adequate shelter or protection.

The statement also decried the imposition of a "punitive curfew regime" and the closure of communities to the outside, which have resulted in unreasonable restrictions on access to water and electricity, while providing little opportunity to replenish basic supplies of food and medicine. The destruction of physical infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the weakening of institutions were also placing the area's long-term future in jeopardy.