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ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: Israel/OT: Growing concern for safety of civilian population

30 Jun 2006
Region: ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Topic: Regional conflict
Amnesty International is gravely concerned that ordinary Palestinians, who have no part in the current escalating tension between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories, are bearing the brunt of the confrontation.
Israeli forces are increasingly resorting to the use of disproportionate force and attacks on civilian objects which are having a serious impact on the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories, and especially in the Gaza Strip.

At the same time, Eliyahu Asheri, an 18-year-old Israeli settler who was abducted by Palestinian armed groups on 25 June 2006, has been found killed(also see: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150572006 ). Amnesty International condemns his killing. It also renews its call to the Palestinian armed groups who have said they are holding hostage an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, to release him promptly and not to harm him. Corporal Shalit has been held since 25 June. The killing of prisoners, the taking and holding of hostages is prohibited by international law, which also prohibits harming or threatening to harm hostages (also see: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150582006.

After the Israeli army dropped leaflets in the North of the Gaza Strip warning residents of impending military strikes in the area, tens of thousands of Palestinians are feeling increasingly unsafe in their homes. Israeli authorities contend that their attacks are targeted at Palestinian armed groups launching “qassam” rockets from the area into nearby Israeli towns. In the past three months Israeli forces have responded to some 300 Palestinian rockets with more than 8,000 artillery shells and scores of air strikes in the area, killing several Palestinian residents and injuring many more, including children.

Yesterday’s warning by the Israeli army, conveyed by air-dropped leaflets, that residents should evacuate the North Gaza area has heightened fear among the population there, who have long been vulnerable to attacks by Israeli forces but who have nowhere else to go.

The inhabitants of other areas of the Gaza Strip are also increasingly vulnerable to repeated Israeli air-strikes. Scores of Palestinians, many of them children, have been killed or injured in recent weeks by missiles fired from Israeli helicopter gunships into densely populated residential areas in attempts to assassinate members of Palestinian armed groups.

At the same time the deliberate attacks and destruction by Israeli forces of civilian objects of bridges, power stations and the electricity network and other infrastructure are further eroding the quality of life and further restricting the freedom of movement of the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, aggravating an already dire humanitarian situation arising from the recent imposition of international sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA).

Amnesty International is reiterating its call on the Israeli authorities and armed forces to end immediately their targeting of civilian property and infrastructure, and artillery shelling, air strikes and other measures which disproportionately threaten the lives of the Palestinian civilian population.

The organization is also seeking clarification about the circumstances surrounding the arrest by Israeli forces of scores of PA ministers, Hamas parliamentarians, Heads of Municipalities and other elected Palestinian officials earlier today. There is concern that some or all of these arrests may have been carried out as a purely retaliatory measure intended to exert pressure on the Palestinian armed groups who are holding the Israeli soldier hostage.

Amnesty International is seeking clarification from the Israeli authorities as to the reasons for these arrests and is seeking assurances that those detained are being treated humanely and are allowed unrestricted access to legal counsel and to medical care if necessary.

In the past, Israeli forces have frequently resorted to taking and holding hostages to use as bargaining chips to force Palestinian armed groups to return hostages or the mortal remains of Israeli soldiers who had been killed. The last hostages known to have been held by Israel were two Lebanese citizens who were released in 2004, after a decade in captivity.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Public Statement
AI Index: MDE 15/060/2006 (Public)
News Service No: 169
29 June 2006

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