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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 15:19 GMT
Israel castigated for 'rights abuses'
A Palestinian school girl screams and cries in shock during an Israeli attack on Gaza City
Palestinian civilians flee during Israel's retaliation
An international conference has demanded that Israel respect the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

At a one-day meeting of countries signatory to the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, 114 countries adopted a three-page declaration re-affirming that the terms of the conventions applied to the Palestinian territories.

The declaration warned that Israel was making grave breaches of the humanitarian terms of the 1949 conventions.

Israel disputes their validity, maintaining that the West Bank and Gaza are "disputed territory" not "occupied territory", and therefore the conventions do not apply.

The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, earlier criticised both Israel and the Palestinians for attacks on civilians.

Israel had asked the Swiss Government to cancel the meeting following the deadly suicide attacks in Israel over the weekend.

Palestinians 'impoverished'

"The failure of successive Israeli governments to comply with the Geneva Conventions has left the population of the Palestinian territories exposed to a wide range of violations", Mrs Robinson said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson is watching events in the Middle East with "growing anxiety"

She said the prolonged siege and closure of the territories had led to increased poverty in the West Bank and Gaza and had left Palestinian workers deprived of work, education and health care.

The humanitarian codes of the fourth Geneva Convention, a cornerstone of international law which Israel ratified in 1951, aim to provide protection and access to food and medical care for all civilians living in war zones or for those living under military occupation.

The UN High Commissioner also stressed that all UN bodies monitoring international treaties are adamant that the convention does cover the Palestinian areas.

She re-iterated her call for an international monitoring presence in the West Bank and Gaza - a demand that has been repeatedly rejected by Israel.

'Futile exercise'

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yakov Levy, on Tuesday described the conference as "meaningless".

Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva Yakov Levy
Yakov Levy: "Futile political exercise"
He said it was "a futile political exercise" and "an abuse of a humanitarian instrument".

The United States called the meeting "counterproductive".

Switzerland - the depository of the Geneva Conventions - organised the conference after a request last year by the United Nations General Assembly, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference members.

Swiss officials said last week they had negotiated a balanced final declaration for the conference, which would stress that respect for the fourth Convention and humanitarian law was essential for a just and lasting peace.

See also:

02 Dec 01 | Middle East
Mid-East stunned by suicide attacks
13 Nov 01 | Middle East
Amnesty calls for Mid-East observers
29 Nov 01 | key documents
The Geneva Convention
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