Israel's Gaza blockade breaks law, says ICRC

Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:07am GMT

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Monday Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip violates the Geneva Conventions and called for its lifting.

The neutral humanitarian agency also urged Hamas Islamist militants holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured nearly four years ago in a cross-border raid, to allow his family to have regular contact with him, in line with international law.

Israel's raid on a Gaza aid flotilla two weeks ago, in which nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed, highlighted acute hardships faced by 1.5 million Gazans due to the closure since 2007, it said. They endure unemployment, poverty and warfare, and health care whose quality is at an "all time low."

"The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law," the ICRC said in a five-page statement. It was the first time the ICRC has said explicitly that Israel's blockade constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law embodied in the Geneva Conventions, an ICRC spokeswoman said. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.

Israel is entitled to impose restrictions on military material for legitimate security reasons, but the scope of the closure is disproportionate, covering items of basic necessity, according to the ICRC.

"We are urging Israel to put an end to this closure and call upon all those who have an influence on the situation, including Hamas, to do their utmost to help Gaza's civilian population," said Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, head of ICRC operations for the Middle East.

The ICRC said Hamas had continually rebuffed its requests to allow its officials to visit Shalit in detention.

"In violation of international humanitarian law, it has also refused to allow him to get in touch with his family," it said.   Continued...

<p>A Palestinian man waits to cross to Egypt at the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip June 1, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem</p>
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