There are fears that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is set to worsen after a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, supported by church and civil rights groups (both Palestinian and Israeli), failed to stop the government from stepping up its blockade of fuel supplies and power into the territory.
Israel's top court effectively endorsed the illegal use of collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza, who are trapped in siege-like conditions.
Fuel supplies to the territory have been cut since September 2007 in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on civilian targets in southern Israel.
As a result of last week’s Supreme Court ruling, Israel will continue to cut fuel and says it will start to restrict electricity supplies to Gaza from 7 February 2008, flouting international law - despite widespread criticism from the international community.
Israel claims these cuts will not have humanitarian implications, but all evidence points to the contrary say relief and development organisations, including Christian Aid.
Gaza is completely dependent on Israeli companies for fuel, so the cuts have already severely disrupted the functioning of vital humanitarian services, including hospitals, water wells and sewage pumps.
The territory currently has 20 per cent less electricity than it needs which results in frequent blackouts and these will increase significantly from 7 February, claim critics.
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, only a drip-feed of humanitarian supplies has been allowed to enter in order to keep the population alive: over 80 per cent of Gaza’s population is dependent on food aid.
In the last six months the economy has been devastated because 95 per cent of factories have closed down due to a lack of raw materials and a block on exports. The shortages of fuel and electricity, as well as other essential supplies, are now set to get worse, it is feared.
Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights–Israel, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, B’Tselem and Al-Haq, were among the petitioners to the Israeli Supreme Court arguing that cutting fuel and electricity to Gaza deliberately inflicts suffering on the civilian population and should therefore be ruled illegal.
Hassan Jabarin of Adalah in Israel, said: "According to the Supreme Court’s decision, it (Israel) is permitted to harm Palestinian civilians and create a humanitarian crisis for political reasons. This constitutes a war crime under international criminal law."
Many Israeli organisations argue the blockade policy not only inflicts indefensible suffering on Palestinians but also does not fulfil its stated aim of providing greater security for Israelis.