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HRW: Israel Blocking Palestinian Aid   02/26 06:13

   

   RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel has failed to comply with an order by the 
United Nations' top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in 
the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling 
in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.

   In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of 
genocide, the U.N.'s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent 
death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza. It stopped short of 
ordering an end to its military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian 
catastrophe in the tiny Palestinian enclave. Israel vehemently denies the 
charges against it, saying it is fighting a war in self-defense.

   One month later and nearly five months into the war, preparations are 
underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza's 
southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians 
have flooded into in search of safety.

   Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the 
army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as 
plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.

   The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the 
displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel's allies have warned that it 
must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

   Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he was 
submitting his government's resignation. The move, which still must be accepted 
by President Mahmoud Abbas, could open the door to U.S.-backed reforms in the 
Palestinian Authority, which the U.S. wants to rule postwar Gaza but in a 
revitalized shape.

   In its ruling last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel 
to follow six provisional measures, including taking "immediate and effective 
measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and 
humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by 
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

   Under the orders, Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to 
adhere to the measures within a month. While Monday marked a month since the 
court's orders were issued, it was not immediately clear whether Israel had 
handed in such a report. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

   Human Rights Watch said Israel was not adhering to the court's order on aid 
provision, citing a 30% drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering 
Gaza in the weeks following the court's ruling. It said Israel was not 
adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed 
Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program 
said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries because of increasing 
chaos in the isolated part of the territory.

   "The Israeli government has simply ignored the court's ruling, and in some 
ways even intensified its repression, including further blocking lifesaving 
aid," said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

   Echoing Human Rights Watch, the Association of International Development 
Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and 
the West Bank, said aid deliveries have slowed since the court's ruling, with 
almost no aid reaching areas in Gaza north of Rafah.

   Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed 
humanitarian organizations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks 
filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The U.N. 
says it can't always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times 
too dangerous.

   Netanyahu's office also said Monday the War Cabinet had approved a plan to 
deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would "prevent the 
cases of looting." It did not disclose further details.

   The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, 
killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, 
has unleashed unimaginable devastation in Gaza.

   Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two thirds of them women and 
children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza which does not 
distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has 
killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

   Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza's urban landscape, displacing 
about 80% of the territory's 2.3 million people who have crammed into 
increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.

   The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and 
raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, which 
was the first focus of Israel's ground invasion and where starving residents 
have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished 
buildings.

   "I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot 
feed them. I cannot feed my own children," Naim Abouseido yelled in anguish as 
he waited for aid in Gaza City. "What did we do to deserve this?"

   Bushra Khalidi, with U.K. aid organization Oxfam, told The Associated Press 
that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north 
in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite 
the court ruling.

   Israel said that 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday, less than half 
the amount that entered daily before the war.

   But Human Rights Watch, citing U.N. figures, said that between Jan. 27 and 
Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering stood at 93, compared to 147 
trucks a day in the three weeks before the world court's ruling. The daily 
average dropped further, to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.

   Aid groups say deliveries continue to be hobbled by security issues. The 
French aid groups Mdecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that 
facilities belonging to them were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks 
following the court order.

   United Nations agencies and aid groups say the hostilities, the Israeli 
military's refusal to facilitate deliveries and the breakdown of order inside 
Gaza make it increasingly difficult to get vital aid to much of the coastal 
enclave. In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded 
delivery trucks and stripped the supplies off them.

   The U.N. has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the 
north, and to improve the coordination process.

 
 
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