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Gaza: An immediate 'humanitarian truce' needed-UN must act

Amnesty International today urged the UN Security Council to demand that Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups observe an immediate truce in Gaza to allow desperately needed humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered civilian population, evacuation of the wounded and safe refuge for civilians wishing to flee the conflict zone.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director Malcolm Smart said:

“Civilians in Gaza are trapped in an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, and need immediate respite.

It is abundantly clear that the parties to this conflict are failing to respect international humanitarian law, and that the civilian population of Gaza is paying a very heavy price.

“Eleven days into the conflict and amid a mounting toll of civilian casualties in Gaza, calls for a ceasefire have as yet gone unheeded by both Israel and Hamas. In the absence of a ceasefire, an immediate humanitarian truce is urgently needed to protect the civilian population. The fighting must stop long enough so that humanitarian assistance can reach those in need and so that those who want to leave can be evacuated.

“An immediate pause in hostilities would at least make it possible for basic assistance to be got to civilians in dire need, permit the evacuation and treatment of the wounded and the burial of the dead. It would also allow civilians trapped in Gaza an opportunity to leave the conflict zone safely to seek refuge with the assistance of neighbouring states where necessary, allow emergency repairs to essential infrastructure, and ensure that humanitarian workers can provide protection and assistance in safety.”

Amnesty International has repeatedly urged Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups to end attacks on civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, and to allow access to humanitarian assistance. The organisation has urged the UN Security Council and the international community to ensure compliance with international law.

However, civilians - particularly the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza - continue to both be targeted and suffer disproportionately in this conflict.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed since 27 December, including more than 100 unarmed civilians. This includes scores of Children's rights. Over 2,000 have been injured. Israeli air strikes continue to be launched in a reckless manner, resulting in high civilian casualties. The use of artillery - which is notoriously inaccurate in pinpointing its target and should never be used in densely populated areas - is leading to further deaths and injuries to civilians. The invasion by Israeli ground forces into Gaza (since 3 January) brings the fighting into the midst of residential areas. The division of Gaza by Israeli forces into three sections is further exacerbating the humanitarian situation.

Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have been firing hundreds of indiscriminate rockets into towns in southern Israel, in violation of international humanitarian law. Three Israeli civilians have been killed in these attacks.

The Israeli ground incursion into Gaza that began on 3 January has taken the fighting even further into the heart of residential areas, increasing the risk for the civilian population.

Even with fighting continuing, Israel has clear obligations under international humanitarian law to allow humanitarian assistance for civilians and must do so immediately. Instead, Israel has been actively blocking essential medicine, food, fuel, and electricity in violation of its duties as the Occupying Power.

There is a critical shortage of food, medicine and most of the necessities required to sustain life in Gaza. According to the Red Cross, hospitals are now completely dependent on unreliable generators that cannot be repaired due to Israeli restrictions on the import of spare parts. The fighting has prevented ambulance crews from responding to some emergency calls, resulting in preventable deaths.

Many water supply lines have been severed during bombardments, making it very difficult for families in certain areas of the Gaza Strip to get hold of safe drinking water. Necessary repairs have been impeded by bombings. This lack of clean water supply is a disaster in waiting.

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