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Rights groups say Gaza humanitarian conditions at 40-year low

[JURIST] Humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] have reached their lowest point since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, according to a report [press release; PDF report] released Thursday by a coalition of eight UK-based human rights groups. The coalition, led by Amnesty International UK [advocacy website], said that 80 percent of Gaza's residents depend on food aid, an increase of 17 percent since 2006, and that unemployment has reached 40 percent. Additionally, the water and sewer systems in Gaza are on the verge of collapse, while hospitals deal with power cuts of up to 12 hours a day. In January, the Israeli Supreme Court [official website] ruled that the Israeli government can continue to cut supplies of fuel and electricity [JURIST report] to Gaza, rejecting legal challenges [JURIST report] by human rights groups that a blockade [JURIST report] deprived Gaza residents of basic humanitarian needs in violation of international law.

The Israeli Defense Ministry [official website] immediately rejected the report, blaming the humanitarian crisis on Hamas rulers in Gaza. The Defense Ministry countered the report, saying that Gaza receives unlimited shipments of food, medicine and medical equipment. The 16-page report called on the UK government and the European Union to bring about a new strategy in Gaza. Specifically, the report calls on the UK government to put greater pressure on the Israeli government to open the borders and allow the free flow of fuel and electricity into Gaza, to help facilitate reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, and to begin negotiations with Palestinian parties. The report also urges Israel to halt unlawful attacks on civilians. Earlier this week, UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour urged an impartial investigation [JURIST report] into Israel's recent air strikes on the Gaza Strip, noting that Israel has responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect civilians. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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