Arabs slam Israel at UN rights forum over Gaza

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GENEVA, Sep 20 (Reuters) Arab and Islamic countries today condemned Israel for declaring the Gaza Strip an ''enemy entity'', and accused Israeli forces of killing Palestinian civilians, detaining parliamentarians, and destroying property.

In speeches to the United Nations Human Rights Council, delegates from the Middle East and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories had deteriorated and would worsen further if Israel cut fuel and electricity to Gaza's 1.5 million people.

Israel's Ambassador Itzhak Levanon denounced the 47-member state forum for ''bashing'' the Jewish state, while the US delegation called for a ''balanced and forward-looking approach''.

The three-hour debate took place as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to bridge his differences with Israel over what a US-led West Asia peace conference might achieve later this year.

Israel yesterday declared the Gaza Strip an ''enemy entity'' and said it would reduce its fuel and power supplies in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June after fighting the forces of Abbas, described the move as a declaration of war.

Mohammad Abu-Koash, Palestinian representative to the UN in Geneva, told the talks: ''Israel's recent declaration that Gaza Strip is hostile territory contravenes the Oslo (peace) agreements and mutual agreements in which I was involved.'' Israeli raids had caused death and injuries among civilians, and destruction of homes, farms and infrastructure, he said.

''Kidnapping of civilians and officials go on unabated and by now there are 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli detention centres, including parliamentarians,'' the Palestinian envoy said.

Pakistan's ambassador Masood Khan, speaking on behalf of the OIC, decried the ''deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories''.

''The Palestinians face military incursions, extra-judicial and targeted assassinations, restrictions on movement and demolition of houses and infrastructure,'' Khan said.

The OIC, a 57-nation alliance representing 1.3 billion Muslims, urged Israel to reverse its decision to interrupt basic services in Gaza, saying that would violate international law.

Western powers including Switzerland and the European Union denounced both Israeli restrictions in the territories and extreme militants who fire cross-border rockets.

Switzerland said that cutting fuel and power supplies would amount to ''collective punishment'' of the civilian population.

The debate was sparked by Israel's denial of access to UN human rights investigators seeking to probe violations in the territories last year, including Israel's shelling of the town of Beit Hanoun in Gaza in which 19 Palestinian civilians died.

Syria's envoy Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said the stalled UN investigations should not be forgotten, adding: ''This will determine credibility of the Council.'' REUTERS GT BD2112

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