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Amnesty demands Israel 'immediately' lift Gaza blockade

Dec. 3, 2013 1:02 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 4, 2013 3:45 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- British human rights organization Amnesty International condemned the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip in a statement released on Monday, demanding Israel "immediately lift its blockade" on the besieged coastal enclave "by allowing the delivery of fuel and other essential supplies into the territory without restrictions."

The statement highlighted that the situation in Gaza had deteriorated significantly in the last month, as "Gaza's 1.7 million residents have been living without power for most of the time and in the shadow of a public health catastrophe, after their sole power plant was forced to shut down, causing the failure of several sewerage and water plants."

"This latest harsh setback has exacerbated the assault on the dignity of Palestinians in Gaza and the massive denial of rights they have experienced for more than six years because of Israel’s blockade, together with restrictions imposed by Egypt," Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying in the report.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for nearly 7 years. However, since the July military coup, Egypt has strictly enforced the blockade and targeted underground tunnels that used to provide the strip with a vital lifeline to the outside world.

The report stressed that the rapid deterioration of the situation in recent weeks was caused by Egypt's post-coup crackdown, but also highlighted that, "as the occupying power, Israel has the primary responsibility for addressing the current crisis by immediately increasing fuel supplies to Gaza."

Amnesty International, however, called on Egypt to "facilitate construction of new power lines" into the southern Gaza Strip, and to negotiate between Israel and Gaza to end the crisis.

In early November, Gaza authorities that there was extremely little fuel available in the strip due to the blockade, leading to widespread disruptions of the functioning of basic services.

The Amnesty International statement highlighted the potentially disastrous implications for public health caused by this lack of fuel, pointing out that "all 291 water and wastewater facilities in the Gaza Strip are now relying on standby generators."

It also noted that a large sewage pumping station had failed south of Gaza City earlier in the month, "allowing more than 35,000 cubic meters of raw sewage to spew into the streets."

Clean-up did not begin until weeks later due to lack of resources, leaving thousands of local residents to wade through sewage in order to leave their homes.

The statement highlighted that water supply was also deeply restricted because of the tightening of the blockade, and 65 percent of Gaza's population only received access to water "every three or four days."

'Fundamental human rights' are being violated

"For each day that the Gaza power plant does not receive fuel, the risk of a massive public health crisis increases. Access to adequate sanitation and drinking water are fundamental human rights. The power plant shutdown should never have been allowed to happen," added Philip Luther.

The statement revealed that the effects of the blockade were also being felt in hospitals and health facilities, as they were relying on generators during power outages. These generators, however, are also effected by the severe lack of fuel, "jeopardizing essential services like kidney dialysis, operating theaters, blood banks, intensive care units, neo-natal care, and laboratories, putting patients` lives at risk."

The statement said that the effects of the crisis were being felt in every aspect of life, as "businesses, construction, and much agricultural work ... ground to a halt amid the power cuts and shortages of fuel and building materials."

This has severely reduced people's access to steady income even further than before.

"Bakeries have reduced production and people are forced to queue to buy bread. Transportation throughout the Strip has been curtailed; carts pulled by donkeys are now being used to collect solid waste," the statement continued.
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