28 July 2006

Palestinian Rights Committee Expresses Grave Concern over Ongoing Israeli Military Operations in Occupied Territory

NEW YORK, 27 July (UN Headquarters) -- The following statement was issued today in New York by the Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People:

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People expresses its grave concern over the ongoing Israeli military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, which has resulted in many Palestinian civilian casualties and a major humanitarian crisis.

Since Israel, the occupying Power, started its major military operation in the Gaza Strip on 28 June 2006, following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian groups, more than 130 Palestinians have been killed, many of whom were innocent civilians, including more than 30 children.  Hundreds of Palestinians were wounded.  While overshadowed by the ongoing hostilities in Lebanon, Israel's military operations in Gaza and the West Bank continue unabated.  Yesterday, Israeli forces killed 23 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including three children and other civilians.

Moreover, the military operations of the occupying Power are also deliberately causing a major humanitarian crisis among the innocent civilian population.  The destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including the only power station, as well as the closure of all crossing points in and out of Gaza, render daily living conditions unbearable and hamper any sustained international relief efforts.  Almost 80 per cent of the population in Gaza are now living under the poverty line, and the health situation is further deteriorating, due especially to the lack of electricity, which is needed to operate water wells and to provide hospital services. 

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People condemns the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of Israel's military might against the Palestinian population.  Deliberate attacks by Israeli forces against civilian property and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip violate international humanitarian law.  The continued closure of the crossing points to the Strip constitutes collective punishment of an entire innocent population.  Israel needs to be reminded that, as an occupying Power, it is bound under international law to protect and safeguard the civilian Palestinian population, as well as their basic human rights.

The Bureau of the Committee condemns the killing of innocent civilians by either side, which seriously endangers, inflames and destabilizes the already fragile situation.  It denounces also rocket attacks on Israel and calls for a cessation of these activities by Palestinian armed groups.

The Bureau of the Committee calls upon Israel to end its military actions against the Palestinian population.  It reminds Israel, the occupying Power, that it is bound by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War that obliges the parties to protect civilians during hostilities.  Its applicability to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, has been repeatedly confirmed by the General Assembly and the Security Council.  Israel must end its incursions into Gaza, cease offensive military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, withdraw its forces to their original positions outside Gaza, and release, immediately and unconditionally, recently jailed cabinet members and parliamentarians, as well as other Palestinian prisoners.  The Bureau of the Committee also calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the captured Israeli soldier. 

In light of the continued and flagrant violations by Israel of major stipulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Bureau of the Committee calls for the urgent resumption of the Conference of High Contracting Parties to ensure respect for the Convention.  Israel should also be held responsible for the caused destruction of civilian infrastructure and provide for its reconstruction without delay.

The Bureau of the Committee welcomes the signing of a National Conciliation Document by the major Palestinian political organizations, the decision to form a national unity Government, and the designation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the person in charge with negotiations with Israel.  These have been encouraging developments and should be supported by Israel and the international community.  Recent meetings by the Foreign Ministers of France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States with President Abbas in Ramallah should be followed by a political dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The Bureau of the Committee considers that a long-term solution to the conflict can only be achieved through a sustained diplomatic and political process that addresses the root causes of the conflict.  That can only be achieved by forceful and continued international engagement, leading the parties back to a serious and credible resumption of the peace process aimed at the emergence of an independent, democratic, viable and contiguous Palestinian State living side by side, in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.  The Bureau of the Committee reiterates that the question of Palestine is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its peaceful settlement is imperative for the attainment of a comprehensive and lasting peace and stability in the Middle East.

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