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Last update - 17:07 13/12/2007
Red Cross: Israel worsening Palestinian humanitarian crisis
Israeli restrictions have caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank that is growing worse, leaving hospitals unable to treat the sick and keeping farmers off their land, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the humanitarian agency called on Israel to "lift the retaliatory measures which are paralyzing life in Gaza" and urged Palestinian factions to stop targeting civilian areas and putting lives at risk.
"The measures imposed by Israel come at an enormous humanitarian cost, leaving the people living under occupation with just enough to survive, but not enough to live a normal and dignified life," said Beatrice Megevand Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Palestinian population has "effectively become a hostage to the conflict," she said.
The ICRC said Israel's "severe restrictions" on the movement of people and goods, imposed to tighten security, had deepened economic woes and affected every aspect of life in the West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
"The Palestinian Territories face a deep human crisis, where millions of people are denied their human dignity. Not once in a while, but every day," the Geneva-based agency said.
Most crossing points have been closed to the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza since the violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah-affiliated forces that led to a Hamas takeover in June this year.
The ICRC estimated that 5,000 farmers in Gaza and their families relying on exports of cash crops like carnations and strawberries were "about to suffer a 100 percent drop in sales."
"The harvest season for these important crops started in June, but the embargo on exports has left them rotting in containers at the crossing points," it said.
Getting medical care or studying in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Israel or abroad has also become "nearly impossible," except for those needing life-saving treatment, the ICRC said.
Some 823 sick people - nearly one-quarter of the 3,568 requiring medical care outside Gaza - were prevented from leaving the territory for treatment over the last six months, spokesman Florian Westphal said.
Administrative and security clearance delays "have resulted in the deaths of three patients in favor of whom the ICRC had intervened," he said, noting restrictions had also caused a shortage of drugs for cancer patients and a lack of spare parts for emergency wards and operating theaters in Gaza's hospitals.
In the West Bank, the ICRC said many Palestinians have been powerless to prevent the confiscation of their land.
As a result of the West Bank separation fence, which runs partially inside Palestinian territory, it said "large tracts of farming land have been out of reach for farmers," who must fight through "a bureaucratic maze" to get permits needed to reach their fields.
Many applications are rejected on security grounds, which "may include a relative once having been in an Israeli prison."
The ICRC depends on its neutrality to distribute emergency aid and help victims of conflict and violence around the world.
It stressed that while Israel has the right to protect its population, "there should always be a sound balance between Israel's security concerns and the protection of the rights and liberties of the Palestinians living under occupation."
"So far, the balance between the legitimate Israeli security concerns and the right of the Palestinian people to live a normal life has not been struck," it said.
PHOTO CAPTION: An aerial view of the West Bank separation fence, near Jerusalem. (AP)