Fifty international charities and UN agencies called Thursday on Israel to lift its years-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Marking the fifth anniversary of the siege, the organizations -- among them Amnesty International, Médecins du Monde, Oxfam, and Save the Children -- joined agencies like the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights UNICEF and four other UN agencies in urging Israel to lift the siege "now."
"For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: 'end the blockade now,'" the petition said.
Israel imposed restrictions on trade to Gaza in 2001 following the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising and tightened them further in 2007 after Hamas took over in the coastal enclave adjacent to Egypt, which also enforces a blockade.
It has relaxed them over the past two years in the face of heavy international pressure, but insists on checking all goods entering the territory.
"All cargo going into Gaza must be checked because Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Just this morning an Israeli farmer who was plowing his field was shot at from Gaza. Is it really fair to expect Israel to remove the restriction on military use items while the regime in Gaza is as hostile and aggressive as it is to Israel?"
Hamas's founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel, but its leadership has raised the possibility of entering into a prolonged truce with Israel after years of bloodshed.