END GAZA SANCTIONS! – Palestinian Return Centre steps up campaigns

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A section of the 5,000-strong demonstration outside Downing Street on January 26 demanding an end to the siege on Gaza
A section of the 5,000-strong demonstration outside Downing Street on January 26 demanding an end to the siege on Gaza

The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) has stepped up the international campaign to get the sanctions and siege of Gaza lifted.

In its latest ‘update on Gaza protests’ the PRC said: ‘On 22nd January the Palestinian Return Centre hosted a seminar in the House of Commons to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip.

‘The session was attended by a number of parliamentarians among them; Richard Burden, Phyliss Starkey, Brian Iddon, Alistair Carmichael, Neil Gerrard and Lord Nazir Ahmad.

‘All the members deplored the immense human suffering caused by the siege of Gaza and affirmed their continued support for efforts to end the sanctions.

‘On 26th January a massive vigil was held outside No 10 Downing Street, the official residence and office of British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

‘The vigil was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Palestinian Forum in Britain and a number of other civil society bodies.

‘The European Campaign to End the Sanctions on Gaza held a picket in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on Monday 28th January.

‘The Campaign, which includes the Palestinian Return Centre London, brought together protesters from all over Europe.

‘As part of their ongoing efforts against the siege of Gaza a delegation from the Return Centre and members of the European Campaign to End the Sanctions met with the vice president of the European parliament Mrs Louisa Morgantini on 29th January at the parliament in Brussels.

‘Mrs Morgantini informed the delegation that she and a team of European parliamentarians intended to visit the Gaza Strip in the near future.

‘In a related development the European member assigned to contact the Palestinian Legislative Council, Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, expressed grave concern over the continued detention of one-third of the elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Israeli prisons. Triantaphyllides and British Green Party member of the parliament Caroline Lucas assured the delegation that it was impossible to remain silent over the current humanitarian situation in Occupied Palestine.’

In its list, ‘Gaza: The Facts’ the PRC points out:

• The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is a direct consequence of the sustained siege of the territory that began in 2006 following the victory of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) in the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

• Throughout the past two years, the five border crossings to the Gaza Strip were regularly closed, sometimes for months, by the Israeli army.

• Since June 2007, the complete closure of the crossings has rendered all movement in and out of Gaza virtually impossible. Thousands of Palestinians have been unable to attend work, pursue studies or obtain medical treatment abroad.

• 85 per cent of Gaza’s population depends on international food aid. If this situation obtained anywhere else in the world it would have been declared a disaster zone.

• Israel’s decision to withhold fuel supplies for Gaza’s 1.6 million inhabitants affects every aspect of life.

One of the worst hit areas is that of water supplies. Most of the people in the territory live in high rise buildings. The supply of water to them depends on the availability of electricity and fuel.

• In normal circumstances hospitals in the Gaza Strip need at least 80,000 litres of fuel daily. When supplies are disrupted the need jumps to 200,000 litres.

• On 20th January 2008 reserve supplies of fuel at the Khan Younis Hospital (funded by the European Union) was down to 10,000 litres. Normal reserve supplies are supposed to be 120,000 litres.

• The siege has devastated the Gazan economy. The shortage of food supplies have sent prices rocketing. More than 3,500 businesses and factories have been forced to close their doors.

• 80 per cent of all industrial sector businesses are either temporarily shut down or running at below 20 per cent capacity. This sector is 95 per cent dependent on imported raw materials, and over 66,000 workers have been temporarily laid off.

• In the textile industry financial losses due to the blockade now exceed $30 million. Losses in the furniture industry are estimated at $20 million.

• Israel’s decision to withhold fuel supplies forced the closure of Gaza’s only power plant on 20th January 2008, leaving 800,000 people in darkness and without heating at the height of the winter season.

• The inability to treat sewage and waste water as well as deliver clean drinking water without electricity raises the spectre of a major epidemic outbreak in the Gaza Strip.

• On 20 January 2008, the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, which normally operates 130 wells and sewage treatment plants, confirmed that if the fuel supply was not restored within three days, these services will cease to function throughout the Gaza Strip.

• The economic strangulation of Gaza has been accompanied by an intensification of Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip.

• 69 Palestinians were killed during the first 19 days of 2008. They included four children and eight women.

• Since the Annapolis peace talks on 28th November 2007 there has been a 219 per cent rise in the number of Palestinians killed by the Israelis.

• The ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed since Annapolis has risen to 49:1, and to 72:0 since 1st January 2008

• More than 150 rockets and mortars have struck Israel between 15-18 January 2008, none of them causing any fatalities or serious injuries.

• 12 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rocket attacks in the past six years. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights recorded 700 Palestinians killed, including 224 civilians (78 of them children) by Israeli forces in extra-judicial executions during that same time period.

There are at present:

• 1,562 patients in need of treatment outside the Gaza Strip;

• 322 patients in grave danger and in need of urgent treatment;

• 470 cancer patients likely to die;

• 107 classes of basic medicines depleted from the Gaza Strip.

The PRC stresses: ‘Israel’s current policy in relation to the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants constitutes an unmitigated violation of international humanitarian law including, but not limited to, Israel’s obligation as an Occupying Power to, at a minimum, ensure the basic needs of the population under its effective control, and the prohibitions on collective punishment, coercion and unlawful reprisals.’

It quotes a letter by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CABU) published in The Independent on 14th November 2007:–

‘They are using the starvation and strangulation of civilians under occupation as a method of warfare, and collective punishment, outlawed in the Rome statute as war crimes.

‘It is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, under Article 147, to wilfully cause “great suffering or serious injury to body or health”.’