JERUSALEM: Israel is blocking rights activists’ access to and from the Gaza Strip, hampering their work in the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
A new report from the rights group “documents how Israel systematically bars human rights workers from travelling into and out of Gaza, even where the Israeli security services make no security claims against them as individuals,” it said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch said it had only once since 2008 received permission from Israel for foreign staff to enter Gaza.
Militants in the coastal enclave and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 and Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for 10 years.
The Gaza Strip’s sole crossing with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
“Neither Human Rights Watch nor Amnesty International has been able to get staff into Gaza via Egypt since 2012,” HRW said.
The New York-based rights watchdog said access to the strip was important to look into allegations of abuses during the devastating 2014 war.
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has opened an initial probe into alleged war crimes by both sides during the July-August 2014 conflict.
“If Israel wants the ICC prosecutor to take seriously its argument that its criminal investigations are adequate, a good first step would be to allow human rights researchers to bring relevant information to light,” said HRW’s Sari Bashi. “Impeding the work of human rights groups raises questions not just about the willingness of Israel’s military authorities to conduct genuine investigations, but also their ability to do so.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli defence ministry unit that oversees permission to travel to Gaza said that “all requests were carefully studied”.
“We coordinate regularly crossings of numerous human rights organisations,” she added, naming such groups as Doctors Without Borders.
Bashi told AFP that while Israel was allowing access for humanitarian workers, it was not permitting rights activists, invoking security concerns.
Human Rights Watch also criticised restrictions recently imposed by Hamas following the assassination of one of its officials in the strip on March 24.
It has blamed Israel for the assassination and restricted passage out of Gaza as it investigates the murder.
Click here to access HRW report.