Israel’s power cuts to the 1.6 million population of the besieged Gaza Strip are not only a collective punishment of civilians but a violation of the law of war, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, February 7.
"Israel’s cuts of fuel and electricity to Gaza, set to escalate today, amount to collective punishment of the civilian population, and violate Israel’s obligations under the laws of war," the international watchdog said in a statement on its website.
A ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court to reduce electricity to Gaza by 1.5 megawatts over the next three weeks comes into effect on Thursday, February 7.
"Such an act would also violate Israel’s duty as an occupying power to safeguard the health and welfare of the population under occupation," stressed the HRW.
Laws of war prohibit a government that has effective control over a territory from attacking or withholding objects that are essential to the survival of the civilian population.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a lockdown of the coastal region on Thursday, January 17, halting shipments of food, fuel and medical supplies.
The Gaza Strip’s sole power plant, which supplies about 25 percent of electricity, was shut down three days later.
The shutdown left the small, overcrowded strip, home to nearly 1.6 million, without electric-powered heating in the winter cold.
Even before the blockade, electricity supply in Gaza ran 30 percent below demand.
Damage to one of the five Israeli lines, which supply the strip with 70 percent of electricity, had further reduced supply.
Human Rights Watch warned that Palestinian civilians are paying a heavy price for the Israeli punitive measures.
"These cuts… are having a grave impact on Gaza’s hospitals, water-pumping stations, sewage-treatment facilities, and other infrastructure essential for the well-being of Gaza’s population," it said.
"At Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital, power surges following outages have caused equipment to break."
European Union special Mideast peace envoy Marc Otte warned Thursday that Israel was turning the Gaza Strip into a new Somalia.
"Israel’s tactics in the Gaza Strip did not work," Otte told Israel’s Haaretz daily.
"The blockade and the sanctions against the population failed, and only strengthened Hamas and weakened [Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad and [President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen."
The EU envoy asserted that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was central to the breach in the border with Egypt.
"The blockade and its results did not harm Hamas, only made things more complex for Israel and Egypt and created unnecessary tension between the two states."
Otte warned that "the implications of Israeli activity may be that Gaza becomes Somalia."
(IslamOnline.net and agencies)