Israel's blockade of Gaza denies 1.4 million Palestinians the food, fuel and medicine they need to survive, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, calling it collective punishment and a violation of international law.
The US-based international rights group also said in its annual report for 2007 that indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza also violate international law.
HRW said that for the first time since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967, more Palestinians were killed in inter-factional fighting than by Israeli attacks.
"The Israeli and Western economic embargo of Gaza, Israel's almost total closure of Gaza's border crossings, ongoing lawlessness in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and heightened Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement in the West Bank contributed to a serious human rights and humanitarian crisis," the report said.
Israel, which has blockaded the Gaza Strip since the Islamist movement Hamas ousted forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas last June, on January 17 imposed a total lockdown on the impoverished territory, citing rocket fire.
"The general population has borne the brunt of Israel's measure" in Gaza in 2007, HRW said.
It said Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak's decision to cut fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza constituted "collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population in violation of international humanitarian law."
The Israeli cabinet had in September declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity" because of continuing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
Between January and October last year, 245 Palestinians -- "about half of whom were not participating in hostilities" -- were killed by Israeli security forces, the report said.
"The Israeli army's continued failure to investigate civilian death and injury where there was evidence of a laws of war violation reinforces a culture of impunity in the army and robs victims of an effective remedy," HRW said. ...
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