Grant humanitarian workers immediate access to Gaza now

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA
PRESS RELEASE
December 31, 2008

Possible Israeli Ground Incursion into Gaza Risks Increase
in Civilian Casualties, Warns Amnesty International

Human Rights Organization Reiterates Call to Grant
Humanitarian Workers Immediate Access to Gaza

(Washington) — Amnesty International expressed great concern today that a ground incursion into Gaza by Israeli forces could greatly increase civilian casualties.

“Israeli forces must bear in mind that there are no ‘safe’ places in Gaza for civilians to seek shelter. They know how densely populated the Jabalia Refugee Camp is and that the homes there are flimsy structures with asbestos roofs not able to withstand the effect of strikes. Strikes are virtually sure to kill and injure civilians,” said Amnesty International.

“The Israeli army must always choose means and methods of attack that are least likely to harm civilians. Amnesty International urges all parties not to target civilians and not to carry out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that put civilian lives in danger.”

As the number of casualties continues to mount, civilians in Gaza are in increasingly dire need of food, medical and other emergency assistance, Amnesty International said today.

International humanitarian and human rights workers, as well as journalists, have not been allowed into Gaza by the Israeli army since the beginning of November, with the exception of a few journalists who were allowed in for a couple of days earlier in December.

“Humanitarian workers, journalists and human rights monitors are urgently needed to assess needs, report violations and publicize the reality of the situation on the ground,” said Amnesty International.

Amnesty International believes that risk to civilians is increased by artillery attacks on Gaza launched from Israeli gunboats off the coast. In the past, such artillery fire into densely populated areas has been inaccurate, causing Israel to desist after the attacks caused high numbers of civilian casualties.

As attacks continue, Amnesty International called on the Israeli authorities, the Hamas de-facto administration and all other Palestinian armed groups to stop all unlawful attacks. They must not target civilians and buildings not being used for military purposes, whether through air or artillery strikes or home-made rockets, and must take all precautions necessary to protect civilians from the dangers caused by military operations.

The following are examples of individual women and children killed by Israeli attacks since Saturday, Dec. 27:

  • On Dec. 27, seven students were killed outside a United Nations school just after lessons finished as they left for home. The Israeli bombardment started at about 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, a day and time when the streets are very busy, particularly as children finish school just after midday. At this time, the initial bombardment was at its most intense.
  • On Dec. 27, Muhammad al-Awadi finished his exam and left the al Carmel School in the Rimal district of downtown Gaza City at about 11:30 a.m. to return to the orphanage where he lived with his brother Ahmed. Muhammad was fatally wounded when a bomb was dropped on the nearby police station just as he came out of the school. After treatment by the intensive care unit of Gaza City Hospital, Muhammad died the evening of December 30.
  • On Dec. 28, five sisters from the Baalousha family aged four to 17, (Jawhir, 4; Dina, 8; Samar, 12; Ikram, 14; and Tahrir, 17) were killed in their home in Jabalia Refugee Camp, located north of Gaza city in Gaza’s most densely populated area. Four other child siblings were injured when the mosque near their home was bombed. Their homes, as well as others, were destroyed and damaged.
  • During the night of Dec. 28-29, three brothers from the al-Absi family aged three to 14 years old (Sedqi, 3; Ahmad, 12; and Muhammad, 14) were killed along with their mother and several other siblings were injured when their home was destroyed by an Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Rafah, south Gaza.

Since the beginning of the offensive on Dec. 27, more than 360 Palestinians have been killed, including scores of unarmed civilians, including some 70 women and children. Some 1,700 Palestinians have also been injured.

Four Israeli civilians have also been killed and scores injured as all Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including the armed wing of the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas’ al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, have continued to launch rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Contact: AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x302, lspann@aiusa.org

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