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Gaza: Israel 'playing games' as human rights organisations denied access

Israel should immediately allow access to Gaza for Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organisations so they can investigate allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today in a joint statement.

Since the beginning of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, Israeli authorities have denied repeated requests by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing. Both groups also requested access from Egyptian authorities, who so far have not granted it.

Since 7 July  Amnesty International has submitted three applications for permission to enter Gaza via the Erez Crossing to Israel’s Civil Administration, which operates under Israel’s Defense Ministry.  In each case, the Civil Administration said it could not process the requests, and that the Erez Crossing was closed. Journalists, UN staff, humanitarian workers, and others with permits have been able to enter and exit via Erez throughout this period.

Anne FitzGerald, Amnesty International’s Director of Research and Crisis Response, said:

“The Israeli authorities appear to have been playing bureaucratic games with us over access to Gaza, conditioning it on entirely unreasonable criteria even as the death toll mounts.

“The victims' and the public's right to know about what happened during the hostilities requires the Israeli authorities to ensure full transparency about their actions and to refrain from hindering independent and impartial research into all alleged violations.

“Valuable time has already been lost and it’s essential that human rights organisations are now able to enter the Gaza Strip to begin the vital job of verifying allegations of war crimes.”

Human Rights Watch received similar responses from the Civil Administration to its request for permission to enter Gaza since the recent escalation in hostilities. Israeli authorities at the Erez Crossing also said that Human Rights Watch was not eligible for permits to enter Gaza because it was not a registered organisation. However, the Israeli authorities acknowledged that they had discretion to make an exception. On 17 August  Human Rights Watch requested such an exception as soon as possible.  Prior to 2006 Israeli authorities repeatedly granted Human Rights Watch access to Gaza without requiring the group to register or seek a special exception.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said:

“If Israel is confident in its claim that Hamas is responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza, why is it blocking human rights organisations from carrying out on-site investigations.

“Talking points by a party to the conflict don’t determine whether attacks violated the laws of war, but field investigations could.”

During the recent hostilities, Israeli forces have intensively bombarded the Gaza Strip from the air, land and sea, severely affecting the civilian population there. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1,976 Palestinians have been killed, including 1,417 civilians of whom 459 are children and 239 women. Thousands of unexploded remnants of war are dispersed throughout the Gaza Strip.  Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Sixty-seven Israelis have been killed including three civilians.

Palestinian armed groups have fired thousands of indiscriminate rockets toward Israeli population centres; have reportedly stored rockets in empty school buildings; and allegedly failed to take all feasible precautions to prevent harm to civilians, in violation of international law. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have some staff on the ground in Gaza but they have not been able to verify many reported violations because of the Israeli authorities’ denial of access to researchers.

The Israeli government must allow all allegations of war crimes and other violations to be independently verified and the victims to obtain justice.

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