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Human Rights Council calls for end to Israeli restrictions on Gaza Strip

Human Rights Council calls for end to Israeli restrictions on Gaza Strip

The United Nations Human Rights Council today called for immediate international action to force Israel to allow fuel, food, medicine and other essential items to be sent to the Gaza Strip, to reopen the border crossings and to end its “grave violations” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The statement passed by a roll-call vote of 30 in favour with Canada voting against it and 15 countries abstaining, following a special session that began yesterday. In it, the Council expressed its deep concern about “the series of incessant and repeated Israeli military attacks and incursions,” which it said had killed and injured many Palestinian civilians.

The resolution demanded “that the occupying Power, Israel, lift immediately the siege it has imposed on the occupied Gaza Strip, restore continued supply of fuel, food and medicine and reopen the border crossings.”

It called for the immediate protection of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory in line with human rights law and international humanitarian law, and urged all parties to refrain from violence against civilians.

The text, which was introduced by Syria in the name of the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, also called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Louise Arbour, to report to the Council at its next session on the progress made towards implementing the resolution.

Ms. Arbour told the Council’s special session yesterday that the situation for both Palestinians and Israelis will continue to deteriorate unless both parties to the conflict and the international community take broader steps to action.

“All parties concerned should put an end to the vicious spiral of violence before it becomes unstoppable,” she said. “To this end, they must ensure accountability for breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of international human rights law through credible, independent, and transparent investigations.”

Ms. Arbour added that the Israeli practice of collective punishment, disproportionate use of force and targeted killings continued, as did the Palestinian militants’ practice of indiscriminate firing of mortars and rockets into Israel.

The Council held the special session this week amid mounting concern at the UN, including from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, about the humanitarian situation facing Gaza’s 1.4 million residents as a result of the closure of the border crossings and the restrictions on the supply of food, fuel, medicine and other items.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Special Coordinator’s Office (UNSCO) in Jerusalem reported that about 315,000 litres of industrial gas, 20,000 litres of benzene, 250,000 litres of diesel and 200 tons of cooking gas went from Israel into Gaza today.

A UN spokesperson told reporters in New York that while all of Gaza’s hospitals were still operating, only three received fuel supplies today.

UN staff say a shortage remains of benzene for hospital workers’ vehicles, with the World Food Programme (WFP) able to access some from the local commercial market but unsure of whether there is enough to last beyond the middle of next week.

No UN trucks were allowed to enter Gaza today and the area’s power plant has been rationing its remaining supplies to avoid a crisis this weekend.

WFP has called the situation “a serious food crisis,” with the access restrictions causing them to run out of food, which meant that the sick and elderly received only partial rations yesterday. Tensions rose at a distribution point after supplies of chickpeas, sugar and salt ran out.

The agency reported that the new security checks are causing a cost increase of nearly $50,000 per month to its operations in Gaza.

Meanwhile, this week the UN and its partners launched their largest-ever appeal to help the Palestinians, with $462 million being sought in 2008, making it the third biggest UN appeal in the world, after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).