International Committee of the Red Cross condemns Gaza blockade

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement today calling for an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip which it calls a "...collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law."

The statement gives an overview of what the Red Cross views as a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The ICRC describes how the blockade has seriously impoverished the people of Gaza, as well as denying them basic access to housing, food and health care. The ICRC claims the blockade has almost totally destroyed Gaza's economy, which is kept on life support by an elaborate tunnel system used to smuggle in goods. Even though Israel has stated that it no longer occupies the Gaza Strip, the ICRC said that the country still denies Gazans access to their fishing grounds, causing great economic hardship.

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Outlining the condition of the health care system in Gaza, the ICRC stated that electricity blackouts are on average seven hours a day, meaning that hospitals must run on generators. Generators can take two to three minutes to start, a luxury many patients cannot afford. To make matters worse fuel supplies for the generators are erratic, and the ICRC reported that already three times in 2010 Gaza's hospitals have run out of fuel.

The statement also highlighted a potential risk to Gaza's water supply. According to the ICRC, only 60% of Gaza's 1.4 million inhabitants are connected to a sewage collection system, and raw sewage is dumped into the Wadi Gaza river, posing a great health risk to many families living alongside the river, where overused aquifers results in drinking water unfit for consumption with "high levels of nitrate, chloride and salt".

The ICRC has urged for the rights of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is held prisoner by Hamas, to be respected. On Israeli-held prisoners, the ICRC state that "Over 800 Gazan detainees in Israeli prisons have been prevented from meeting face-to-face with their loved ones since June 2007."