AL-HAQ OPEN LETTER
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
15 April 2006
Al-Haq Open Letter to Quartet Representatives on Israel‘s Bombardment of Gaza
As a Palestinian organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Al-Haq is extremely concerned by the on-going Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has already caused many civilian casualties and considerable material destruction. In a previous intervention dated 21 March 2006, Al-Haq urged Quartet members to act to end the economic siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and to prevent the impending humanitarian disaster. Today, food stocks remain dangerously low and the Karni crossing is still frequently closed. In addition, intensive Israeli military attacks are further exacerbating the already explosive situation.
Thus far, the Israeli bombardment has been carried out by aircraft missiles and shelling from tanks and navy gun ships. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between 29 March and 12 April 2006, the Israeli military fired more than 2,300 shells into Gaza, amounting to more than 150 per day. Over the same time period, Israeli aircrafts launched 34 missiles into Gaza. There were 62 injured Palestinians, including 11 children, and 17 killed, amongst them two children. On 11 April, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz announced an intensification of these attacks.
The aggressive bombardment has already exacted a heavy toll on the civilian population, particularly in the northern areas of Gaza. Civilians live under the constant threat of sudden attack and many families have already evacuated their houses and land to move to areas further from the shelling. The constant threat of shelling and the presence of unexploded shells on the ground have made farming and herding hazardous.
The intensive Israeli bombardments constitute an excessive use of force, causing death and injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. Further aggravating the effects of the bombardments, the Israeli army recently decreased the "safety zone" around civilian communities, within which artillery may not fire, from 300 metres to 100 metres. The shell fragmentation range is also 100 metres. Additionally, artillery shells are not precise weapons, which accentuates the reckless disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians.
According to OCHA figures, between 29 March and 12 April 2006, the Israeli army fired approximately 30 times more missiles and shells than Palestinian rockets were fired from Gaza, which have wounded one Israeli civilian. While attacks against Israeli civilian areas are illegal under international humanitarian law, the Israeli bombardment cannot be characterized as a proportionate response to the rudimentary and largely ineffective Palestinian rockets. Moreover, it is a cardinal principle of international humanitarian law that a breach of that law is not rendered legal by another breach committed by opposing forces.
Al-Haq renews its call for the Quartet to exert all means at its disposal, including economic and political pressure, to compel Israel to respect its obligations under international law. In particular, Al-Haq urges the Quartet members to set as their highest priority the termination of the bombardments of the Gaza Strip, where the population is concomitantly under siege and fire. As the main actors in the effort to bring a resolution to the conflict in the region, the Quartet is in a unique position to prevent a new flare-up in the OPT and the inevitable impact on the region and beyond that such a deterioration would bring.
Acting General Director