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Israel blocks rights groups from advocating for Gazans

Human rights groups that help Palestinians with urgent requests to leave Gaza – often for medical care – can no longer directly petition the Israeli authorities.

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While the Israeli army's crossings into Gaza have gone into near-lockdown mode since Hamas wrested control of the coastal strip more than two years ago, Israeli human rights organizations have regularly stepped in to intervene, with some success.

That is, until last week. On Sunday, a group of the most active human rights groups here were informed that the government-run body that controls access to and from Gaza will no longer deal with them.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) sent an official letter on Sept. 13 to three human rights groups informing them that they would no longer be able to act on behalf of Palestinians with urgent requests to leave Gaza – generally for medical care, to visit a sick family member, or to attend a funeral. They must instead refer such requests to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, in accordance with the Interim Agreement – the basis of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation established in 1995 under the Oslo peace process.

The letter notes that the "longstanding" policy of carrying out such appeals in conjunction with Palestinian authorities has been approved by Israel's High Court of Justice. But the organizations say it is part of the military's increasing resistance to working with human rights groups in the wake of the Gaza war.

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