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UN rights chief urges Israel to end 'illegal' Gaza blockade

Nov. 18, 2008 4:21 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 18, 2008 4:21 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - The United Nations' highest-ranking human rights officer urged Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

"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 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a statement.

Pillay said the blockade is illegal under international human rights and humanitarian law, and "must end now."

According to UN officials in Gaza, Israel has allowed virtually no supplies of food, fuel or medicine into Gaza since 4 November. The siege has caused widespread blackouts and forced UNRWA, the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees, to suspend a food program that serves 750,000 Palestinians for three days.

Israel allowed 33 truckloads of goods into Gaza on Monday, allowing the UN to resume food distribution, but officials say the Strip is still on the brink of crisis. UNRWA says it requires 15 trucks a day of supplies to sustain normal humanitarian operations.

Pillay welcomed Monday's limited shipments, but said the blockade must be completely lifted. She cited Israel's obligation as the Occupying Power under 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," said Pillay.

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

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, reacted angrily to Pillay's comments.

"Overall responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip lies with Hamas, which invests all of its resources in arms and terrorism instead of providing for the civilians that it brutally controls," Aharon Leshno-Yaar said.

***Updated at 20:53 local time

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