AI urges UN Security Council not to fail civilians caught in Gaza conflict

Amnesty International Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, January 5, 2009

Amnesty International Urges U.N. Security Council
Not to Fail Civilians Caught in Gaza Conflict

Human Rights Organization Concerned by “Unprecedented Scale” of Civilian Casualties in Gaza; Calls for Deployment of International Monitors in Urgent Letter

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

(Washington) — Amnesty International today urged the U.N. Security Council to take firm and decisive action to address the increasingly grave situation in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.

“Civilian casualties and destruction in Gaza are on an unprecedented scale,” said Amnesty International USA’s senior deputy executive director Curt Goering. “If the U.N. Security Council does not act swiftly and effectively, it risks failing civilians caught in hostilities and thereby shirking its duty to ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.”

There are growing concerns about the safety of the civilian populations in the area, particularly the 1.5 million Palestinians who are trapped in the Gaza Strip and face a spiraling humanitarian crisis amid continuing Israeli attacks after many months of blockade.

“The Council can start by adopting a strong resolution condemning attacks against civilians by both Israel and Hamas, demanding that such attacks cease immediately,” added Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program director.

Amnesty International said the U.N. Security Council should urge Israel to lift restrictions on the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza — medicines, food, fuel and other necessities urgently required to alleviate civilian suffering — and to allow humanitarian and human rights workers and journalists unfettered access to Gaza.

“Civilians on both sides continue to pay a heavy price, which might be alleviated if international monitors were to be deployed to verify compliance with international law by both Israel and the Palestinian administration in Gaza,” said Smart.

Background

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes and other attacks since December 27. Those killed include more than 100 unarmed civilians, including scores of children, as well as some 165 civilian police taking no part in the conflict. More than 2,000 Palestinian civilians have been injured. While many Israeli attacks have targeted and killed Palestinian combatants, including leaders of Hamas, other attacks have been directed at civilian buildings not being used for military purposes. They have targeted civilians such as police cadets, or have been disproportionate, recklessly endangering civilians and causing a mounting toll of civilian casualties. The number of civilian casualties is expected to increase further as a result of the ground incursion by Israeli forces which began on January 3 and the use of heavy weaponry in densely populated civilian areas.

In the same period, five Israelis have been killed, including three civilians killed in rocket attacks launched by Palestinian armed groups from the Gaza Strip.

As well as air strikes, Israeli forces have also used artillery — which is notoriously inaccurate and should never be used in densely populated areas — including from gunboats ranged along the Gaza coast.

Leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft over Gaza have warned residents to leave the area, although they are physically prevented from doing so, causing panic and confusion among the population. Like the telephone calls made by the Israeli military to Palestinians warning them to leave their homes to escape attack, the leaflets seem to be random and dropped all over Gaza.

One Gaza resident, a supporter of the Fatah party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Amnesty International:

“My children see the leaflets and go crazy with fear, they want to leave home; but we have nowhere to go. My family and my wife’s family live close to the border, in even more dangerous areas; and we can’t just stay outside, it is equally dangerous, children have been killed walking or playing in the street. There is no electricity, we can’t even find food, and we are not safe even in our homes. We have nothing to do with Hamas. I’ve been detained and harassed by Hamas, but the Israeli bombardments are indiscriminate. No one is safe.”

The last two weeks of fighting have increased the humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, in force continuously since June 2007. The United Nations and international aid agencies report that there is an acute shortage of food and most basic necessities. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Israeli bombardments have damaged water supply lines, making it difficult for some families to obtain access to safe drinking water. The organization also noted that hospitals are running short of key medicines and depend on unreliable generators for their power. The Gaza Pediatrics’ Hospital reported that most of its windows have been smashed by the blasts and plastic sheets are being used to block the cold. An air strike on January 2 damaged a pipe supplying water to 30,000 residents of Nuseirat Refugee Camp, south of Gaza City. Continuous Israeli strikes also make attempts to carry out repairs extremely dangerous.

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.

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Click here to view Amnesty International’s letter to the U.N. Security Council.

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