A UN human rights expert expressed deep concern Tuesday about the recent rise in armed violence in Gaza and welcomed this week’s announcement that Israel and Hamas have reached a truce to halt the current hostilities.

Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, cautioned that true peace, and the badly needed reconstruction of Gaza, will only come with full respect for the fundamental rights of the 2 million Palestinians living there.

“Gaza has been reduced to a humanitarian whisper,” said Lynk.

“Behind the current hostilities – the launching of rockets and incendiary balloons by Palestinian armed groups and the disproportionate use of targeted missile strikes by Israel – is the long-term impoverishment of Gaza by Israel’s 13-year-old comprehensive blockade.”

Lynk said this amounted to collective punishment of the entire civilian population in Gaza, adding to Gazans’ suffering and broader tensions.

– ‘Humanitarian crisis’

In August, Israel closed the fishing zone off Gaza, largely shutting the Karem Abu Salem/Kerem Shalom crossing – the only commercial crossing into Gaza – and halted fuel supplies.

The fuel embargo has caused Gaza’s sole power plant to shut down, reduce electricity availability to between four to six hours a day across the strip, restrict operations at its sewage treatment plants, and diminish the water supply to homes, said Lynk.

“We are no longer on the edge of a humanitarian crisis, but in the middle of one. This is purely a human-made disaster, and could be quickly reversed if the political will existed,” he said.

The UN expert said the blockade has no meaningful security rationale.

“It inflicts great misery on the 2 million civilians in Gaza while imposing little harm on any security targets,” said Lynk.

He noted that Israel remains the occupying power, and international law – including Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – strictly forbids the use of collective punishment by the occupier.

The convention strictly forbids the use of collective punishment by the occupier.

– ‘Unlivable’

As a result of this prolonged blockade, Gaza’s 2 million residents endure a collapsing healthcare system, he said.

They have undrinkable and unaffordable water, inadequate and sporadic power supplies, and an economy on its back with poverty, and among the world’s highest unemployment rates, he said.

“Gaza is on the verge of becoming unlivable,” said Lynk.

“There is no comparable situation in the world where a substantial population has endured such a permanent lockdown, largely unable to travel or trade, and controlled by an occupying power in breach of its solemn international human rights and humanitarian obligations.”

He said that an emerging concern is the new appearance of community transmission of COVID-19 in Gaza.

Perversely, said Lynk, Gaza’s misfortune to be a blockaded territory has meant that, until now, the global pandemic has not entered in any numbers.

“Should the COVID-19 pandemic take root in Gaza, the consequences would likely be very serious,” he said.

“While the international community has been providing the medical supplies to deal with the pandemic, Gaza lacks the healthcare infrastructure – particularly regarding hospital capacity and the quantity of health professionals, testing kits and respiratory equipment – to manage a widespread outbreak.”

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