Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip violates international law, a panel of human rights experts reporting to a U.N. body said on Tuesday, disputing a conclusion reached by a separate U.N. probe into Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship.
The so-called Palmer Report on the Israeli raid of May 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists said earlier this month that Israel had used unreasonable force in last year's raid, but its naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled strip was legal.
A panel of five independent U.N. rights experts reporting to the U.N. Human Rights Council rejected that conclusion, saying the blockade had subjected Gazans to collective punishment in "flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law."
The four-year blockade deprived 1.6 million Palestinians living in the enclave of fundamental rights, they said.
"In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel's closure policy toward Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians," they said in a joint statement.
An earlier fact-finding mission named by the same U.N. forum to investigate the flotilla incident also found in a report last September that the blockade violated international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions.
Israel says its Gaza blockade is a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea.