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UN expert urges Israel to end Gaza blockade as anniversary of campaign looms

UN expert urges Israel to end Gaza blockade as anniversary of campaign looms

Ahead of the first anniversary of the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip, a United Nations independent expert is urging Israel’s European and North American allies to use the threat of economic sanctions to pressure the country into ending the blockade and calling for the swift implementation of the findings of the so-called Goldstone Report.

“People of conscience everywhere, as well as governments worldwide and the United Nations, should take note of the dire situation in Gaza,” said the Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, in a statement released today.

“The ordeal of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza affected by the Israeli blockade, over half of whom are children, has been allowed to continue without any formal objection by governments and at the UN,” added Mr. Falk.

In his annual report released last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, cease evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, and ensure that the rights of children are respected.

“In particular, the Government of Israel should allow unimpeded access to Gaza for humanitarian aid and the non-humanitarian goods needed for the reconstruction of properties and infrastructure,” the Secretary-General wrote in his report to the General Assembly on the human rights.

In the statement released today, Mr. Falk said that “so far, there is no evidence of meaningful international pressure being brought to bear to end the blockade or to ensure that Israeli and Hamas officials are held accountable for alleged war crimes perpetrated during the Gaza attacks.” In his view, “this represents both a tragic failure of responsibility by the powerful governments of the world and of the UN.”

“The unlawful blockade imposed by Israel continues, and is in its third year,” said Mr. Falk, noting that insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory on 27 December 2008, and maintained its military attack for 22 days.

An independent fact-finding mission concluded that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations during the conflict. The probe, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, a former prosecutor at UN war crimes tribunals, was set up at the request of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. Its findings were endorsed last month by the General Assembly.

The rapporteur noted that building materials necessary to repair the damage resulting from the heavy bombardment and artillery assaults could not enter Gaza. He also blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.

Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur praised the initiatives of civil society as “the only meaningful current challenge to Israel’s violations of its obligations as the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip under the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter.”

As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Human Rights Council.