Groups call for end to Gaza blockade

2012-06-14 21:38
Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants dressed as suicide bombers stand around the remains of militant Khaled Khateb, after his body was transferred from Israel, during his funeral in Gaza City. (Adel Hana, AP)

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants dressed as suicide bombers stand around the remains of militant Khaled Khateb, after his body was transferred from Israel, during his funeral in Gaza City. (Adel Hana, AP) (Adel Hana)

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Gaza City - Fifty international NGOs and United Nations agencies on Thursday called on Israel to lift its Gaza blockade, first imposed in June 2006 and ratcheted up a year later.

"For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children," said a statement signed by Oxfam, Amnesty International, Medecins du Monde, Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and others.

"The government of Israel is facing mounting international criticism for the Gaza blockade," said the statement, timed to mark the fifth anniversary of the tightening of the blockade.

"We are calling for the blockade to be lifted," Maxwell Gaylard, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, told reporters in Gaza, calling for an end to the "collective punishment of Gaza residents."

Filippo Grandi, commissioner general of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, added: "What Gaza needs is real development but because of the blockade we have to concentrate on humanitarian work, that's a waste of money.

"The blockade is also counterproductive because it does not bring the security it is purported to bring."

Oxfam data submitted with the statement said that, since 2007, "nearly 30 percent of Gaza's businesses have closed and an additional 15 percent have laid off 80 percent of their staff."

It said 80 percent of Gazans are dependent on aid.

A report from Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) said Gaza's only fresh water source is contaminated with fertiliser and human waste and is too dangerous to drink.

"The blockade is a blight on the lives of Gaza's civilians. It is shocking to see so many children struggling to live a fulfilled and healthy life -- unable to play in safe areas and forced to drink dirty and dangerous water that is making them sick," MAP's Aimee Shalan said in a statement.

MAP said that since the blockade started, the number of children under three being treated for watery diarrhoea had doubled, while high levels of nitrate -- found in faeces and fertiliser -- is also linked to some cancers and is a massive risk to pregnant women.

"More than 90 percent of the water supplied through Gaza's aquifer does not meet WHO's safety standards and is unfit for drinking," it added.

Israel first imposed a blockade on Gaza in June 2006 after militants there snatched one of its soldiers. The captive, Gilad Shalit, was finally freed last October in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

It was tightened a year later after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in the strip, ousting forces loyal to Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas.

The blockade has been eased somewhat but severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people remain in place.

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