Protection 'matter of life and death' for people of Gaza, Israel – UN official

3 April 2009

Upholding the rule of law and protection are essential to prevent further civilian deaths in the wake of the recent hostilities in Gaza, a senior United Nations official said today.

The rule of law is essential to “create a realistic and real basis for hope that things will move forward,” John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said in a press briefing in New York.

“Neither side should be allowed to claim that the illegal acts of the opponent legalize an illegal act in response,” he said, noting that this applies to collective sanctions and illegal rocket firing.

At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed and some 5,300 were injured in the offensive launched by Israel in late 2008 with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups. The heavy bombardment and fighting also reduced homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces to rubble.

From his own experience on the ground in Gaza, Mr. Ging said that he has seen Gazan mothers and fathers call, not for retaliation, but for protection and accountability “because they're concerned, not just for what has happened, but for what is coming.”

He also voiced concern about the humanitarian plight of the people of Gaza, who are suffering due to the lack of access into the area for urgently-needed supplies.

More than two months after the end of the military operation, “we're still faced with the same inadequate access even though the needs have grown significantly,” the official said.

“Until we can get the humanitarian assistance in, in an unfettered way, we can't begin the process of recovery and reconstruction.”

He stressed that even if items such as medicine and vital household supplies can enter Gaza freely, “we shouldn't content ourselves with mere survival because again, it's not just about keeping people alive, it's about giving them a life, giving them a reason to live.”

In a related development, the UN Human Rights Council announced today that Richard J. Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor of two UN criminal tribunals, will lead an investigation into violations of human rights and international law during the recent conflict in Gaza.

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