Freitag, Juni 12, 2009

Pierre Wettach (Red Cross) urges Israel to let relatives visit prisoners

The International Committee of the Red Cross Tuesday urged Israel to lift a two-year ban on visits to Palestinian prisoners from their families in the Gaza Strip.

"Families of Palestinians detained in Israel, who have been prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip for the past two years, must be allowed to resume visits to their relatives," the ICRC's chief representative in Israel, Pierre Wettach, said in a statement.

"This is a humanitarian issue of utmost importance", he added.

The Geneva-based worldwide humanitarian agency said some 900 Palestinians held by Israel have been deprived of seeing their relatives since Israeli authorities ended ICRC-supervised visits in June 2007.

"The situation has been especially painful for the children, who have gone without precious contact with a parent," Wettach said.

"On several occasions detainees or relatives of detainees have died without their family members having the opportunity to say their final farewells."

Contacts between prisoners and their families have been limited to written or oral messages by Red Cross representatives visiting the Israeli jails, the ICRC said.

The ICRC made a similar appeal to Israel in May last year.

Israel's war on Gaza killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and wounded 5,450 others.

Among the dead were about 437 children, 110 women, 123 elderly men, 14 medics and four journalists.

The wounded include 1,890 children. The war also left tens of thousands of houses destroyed, while their residents remained homeless.

Israel, which wants to crush any Palestinian liberation movement, responded to Hamas's win in the elections with sanctions, and almost completely blockaded the impoverished coastal strip after Hamas seized power in 2007, although a ‘lighter’ siege had already existed before.

Human rights groups, both international and Israeli, slammed Israel’s siege of Gaza, branding it “collective punishment.”

A group of international lawyers and human rights activists had also accused Israel of committing “genocide” through its crippling blockade of the Strip.

Gaza is still considered under Israeli occupation as Israel controls air, sea and land access to the Strip.

The Rafah crossing with Egypt, Gaza's sole border crossing that bypasses Israel, rarely opens as Egypt is under immense US and Israeli pressure to keep the crossing shut.

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