Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - Page 6 News List

UN investigator says Gaza’s viability at stake

Reuters, GENEVA, Switzerland

Palestinian girls on Monday watch participants in a summer physical training camp run by Hamas in Gaza City.

Photo: AFP

A UN human rights investigator accused Israel on Monday of imposing collective punishment on 1.75 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and said that the enclave’s viability was at stake.

Both Israel and the US boycotted the debate at the Human Rights Council where Richard Falk presented his latest report. It also calls for an inquiry into alleged torture of Palestinian detainees in Israel’s custody.

“Forty-six years ago today Israel’s occupation of Palestine began. Six days of war has turned into 46 years of occupation,” Falk, an independent investigator, told the Geneva forum.

“The viability of Gaza needs urgent attention and cannot be left to the mercies of continuing Israeli occupation,” he said of the Islamist Hamas-ruled strip, around which Israel maintains a blockade due to what it says are security concerns.

Falk, who visited Gaza in December last year, said that 70 percent of Gaza’s population depends on international aid for survival and 90 percent of the water is “unfit for human consumption.”

Kerem Shalom crossing is closed often by Israel as a retaliatory measure to tighten the “stranglehold of Gaza,” he said.

About 40 percent of the goods coming through there are food and other basic supplies, including cooking gas, he said.

In the first quarter of this year, Israel demolished 204 Palestinian homes and structures in the West Bank, displacing 379 Palestinians, he said, citing UN figures.

Israel detains about 5,000 Palestinians, many held arbitrarily and subjected to torture, coerced confessions, solitary confinement and denial of family visits, he said.

Falk urged the council to establish a commission of inquiry to examine “Israel’s track record of impunity for prison officials and others who interrogate Palestinians.”

He called again for a probe into the death of Palestinian Arafat Jaradat in February in disputed circumstances in an Israeli jail.

Israel has not taken part in the Geneva forum, which it accuses of bias against it, since March last year.

For the first time on Monday, the US delegation did not attend the debate, a regular feature on the council’s agenda, after repeating its call for Falk to resign on Friday.

Washington rejected Falk’s suggestion in his latest report for an investigation into UN Watch, a non-governmental organization whom he accused of carrying out a “smear campaign” against him and distorting his views.

“Mr Falk’s most recent statement, which he dramatically and recklessly included in an official UN document, is characteristic of previous reprehensible comments and actions he has made during his tenure as a special rapporteur,” US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said in a statement.

“It once again starkly demonstrates that he is unfit to serve in his role as a UN special rapporteur,” she said.

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