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JOINT PRESS RELEASE: Israeli army must immediately allow Palestinian teams into Gaza ‘buffer zone’ to rescue people trapped in tunnel

Adalah, Al Mezan: Preventing rescue of missing persons in area under Israeli military control is blatantly illegal policy contrary to Geneva Conventions; forbidden to use trapped people as bargaining chips.

01-11-2017 22:10

Adalah- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza) have filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court tonight, 2 November 2017, demanding the court order the Israeli military to allow Palestinian search and rescue teams from Gaza to enter the "buffer zone" – a “sterile” strip along the Palestinian side of the Israel-Gaza border that routinely comes under Israeli fire – to locate and rescue people trapped in a tunnel destroyed by the Israeli military.
 
 
The petition was filed on behalf of Gaza resident Hassan Abdel Jalil Sbahi, the father of one of the missing individuals, against Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai and the Israeli military’s Southern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir.
 
 
On 30 October 2017, the Israeli military attacked a tunnel in the Gaza border area near Wadi al-Salqa, killing and wounding a large number of Palestinians. At this time, five people are still missing and there is serious concern for their lives. 
 
 
However, the Israeli army is preventing the entry of Palestinian search and rescue teams into the “buffer zone” along the border.
 
 
Adalah Attorney Muna Haddad wrote in the Supreme Court petition that an urgent hearing must be held as people’s lives are at stake. 
 
 
Attorney Haddad argued in the petition filed this evening that "the rescue teams managed to come within 300 meters of the border fence but are unable to reach the trapped and missing persons… because of the prohibition imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinians approaching any location that is less than 300 meters from the fence, an area known as the ‘buffer zone’.” 
 
 
Israeli army’s actions illegal
 
 
“Preventing the location and rescue of missing persons in the area currently under Israeli military control is a blatantly illegal policy,” Attorney Haddad wrote in the petition. This is “contrary to the laws of war and humanitarian law which are anchored in the Geneva Conventions.”
 
 
The petitioners argued that "protecting the wounded in times of war and the duty to allow them to receive medical treatment, the evacuation of bodies, as well as the immunity of ambulances, hospitals and medical teams, are fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Hence, the movement of rescue and medical teams should also be unrestricted allowing them to search and locate the missing persons without delay, thus increasing their chances of being rescued alive."
 
 
Al Mezan Director Issam Younis said Thursday evening that “at such dire times humanitarian principles dictate that everything must be done to preserve lives. These principles were formulated and must be acted on by civilized nations particularly during times of heightened conflict. Time is of the essence, and there must be immediate and firm action in defense of these principles; if not domestically, then by the international community.”
 
 
Israel using trapped people as bargaining chips
 
 
Israeli media is reporting that COGAT chief Mordechai spoke to Jacques De Maio, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Israel, and emphasized that Israel “would not allow search efforts in the Gaza Strip security zone without progress on the issue of Israeli POWs [prisoners of war] and MIAs [missing in action].”
 
 
The Adalah-Al Mezan petition stressed that COGAT chief Mordechai and Southern Command chief Zamir are using the trapped Gazans as bargaining chips:
 
 
“[Mordechai and Zamir] are seeking to use the trapped people, and the possibility of locating and rescuing them, as a bargaining chip – something that this court has already ruled impermissible. There is no way for them to justify this most severe and intolerable harm to the lives and dignity of the trapped individuals.”