UN human rights chief calls for end to Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip

18 November 2008 – The top United Nations human rights official called today for an immediate end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which she said contravened international law and had deprived those living there of their most basic human rights for months.

“By function of this blockade, 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “This is in direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law. It must end now,” she said.

Ms. Pillay called on the Israeli authorities to facilitate the urgent passage of essential humanitarian goods into Gaza, including food, medical supplies and fuel, to allow the immediate restoration of electricity, water and other essential services, and to lift restrictions on the movement of civilians for medical, educational and religious purposes.

“Decisive steps must be taken to preserve the dignity and basic welfare of the civilian population, more than half of which are children,” she said.

Ms. Pillay welcomed the decision by Israel to allow a limited number of trucks to enter Gaza on 17 November, but recalled its obligation to refrain from all measures that contravene international law.

“Only a full lifting of the blockade followed by a strong humanitarian response will be adequate to relieve the massive humanitarian suffering evident in Gaza today,” she said.

The High Commissioner also appealed for a complete cessation of Israeli air strikes and incursions, and of rocket fire by Palestinian groups.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today to express his deep concern over the consequences of the deteriorating humanitarian situation inside Gaza.

Mr. Ban strongly urged Mr. Olmert to facilitate the freer movement of humanitarian supplies and needed UN personnel into Gaza.

The Israeli leader denounced the continuing rocket fire into Israeli from Gaza, but agreed to look seriously into the matter raised by Mr. Ban, according to a read-out of the telephone call.

Also today, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) drew attention to what it called “unprecedented levels of hardship” in Gaza. It said mothers were being turned away from UNRWA food centres without powdered milk for their babies, while the agency had been unable to get supplies in, even for blind children.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

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