Church agency-backed call for Israel to observe international law in Gaza
Church and development groups are expressing deep concern as the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip continues to escalate. In the past week alone 86 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military operations, and critics are raising fresh question about thelegaility of their actions.
In response UK foreign secretary Margaret Beckett has called on Israelis and Palestinians to ëmeet their obligations under international humanitarian lawí.
The deaths in the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip have brought the total fatalities since the end of June to 342, most of them civilians.
Israel has been carrying out operations in Gaza to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israeli population centres near the Strip. The rockets, aimed at targeting Israeli civilians, have killed eight people since 2004.
As a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention the UK has a duty to ensure Israel complies with its obligations. But as Gaza enters a fifth month of incursions, the churches' development and advocacy organisation Christian Aid believes Margaret Beckettís words will "ring hollow if they are not backed up by action."
Christian Aid says that its partners, both Israeli and Palestinian, along with United Nations officials, have expressed their shock over the continuing Israeli incursions in Gaza, asking how many more Palestinians need to die before the world acts.
Infrastructure and residential areas have also been widely destroyed, leaving many with sporadic fuel supplies, rationed electricity and limited drinking water.
"Israel continues to implement more force without implementing more wisdom," commented Hadas Ziv of the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights. "Weíve been trying force for forty years and it hasnít worked. Where does this all bring us?"
Israel has expressed regret over the deaths of 18 Palestinians on Tuesday after a barrage of tank shells hit civilians homes in Beit Hanoun. But the Israeli human rights organisation BíTselem has said the militaryís contention that they did not mean to kill civilians is "disingenuous lip service."
BíTselem have called for an immediate criminal investigation into the incident, which saw 13 people from the same family, including women and children, attacked while they slept. BíTselem argue the artillery shelling was not a defensive action and believe there is an argument that the action may constitute a war crime.
Artillery fire is often used by Israel in densely-populated residential areas, raising the likelihood of civilian casualties.
William Bell, Christian Aidís Middle East policy specialist declared this week: "We would like to ask Margaret Beckett precisely what action she intends to take to get Israelis and Palestinians to meet their obligations under international law."
He added: "An end to Israelís illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories should be at the forefront of her agenda, as well as putting pressure on those who violate international law. Without concerted action, words expressing concern are meaningless."