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Palestinians suffer ‘humanitarian crisis’

14th March 2008

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967, a coalition of human rights and development organisations has warned.

A joint report by Amnesty International, Care International and Oxfam says ‘severe’ Israeli restrictions of the movement of goods and people in and out of the 43km-strip has driven up poverty and unemployment, led to power shortages and brought water and sewage systems close to collapse.

‘Movement in and out of Gaza is all but impossible and supplies of food and water, sewage treatment and basic healthcare can no longer be taken for granted,’ says the report published last week.

Between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the population is without running water and sewage plants are pumping out 30-40 million litres of sewage into the sea every day because Gaza’s main power plant is starved of the oil it needs to operate at full capacity,

This situation is compounded, says the report, by the Israeli government’s refusal to allow Palestinians to import spare parts to repair and maintain power and water service infrastructure.

Hospital patients in need of life- saving treatment, not provided in Gaza, face increasing difficulties obtaining permits from the Israelis. The proportion of patients granted permits has decreased from 89 per cent to 64 per cent.

The report notes: ‘Permit delays and denials have resulted in dozens of patient deaths, either in Gaza hospitals or at the Erez crossing itself.’

Almost 2,000 children have dropped out of school in the last five months while power cuts have shortened the working week.

Geoffrey Dennis of Care International said the recent escalation in violence would make life even more unbearable in Gaza. ‘Unless the blockade ends now, it will be impossible to pull Gaza back from the brink of this disaster,’ he said.

Amnesty International director Kate Allen said Israel had the right to protect its citizens, but it must ensure Gazans have access to food, clean water and electricity.

‘Punishing the entire Gazan population by denying them these basic human rights is utterly indefensible,’ she said.

However Israel’s defence ministry said Hamas, the Islamic group that runs the Gaza strip, was to blame for the situation. ‘The main responsibility for events in Gaza is the Hamas organisation, to which all complaints should be addressed,’ it said.