2 July 2009An independent United Nations human rights expert today denounced what he described as “the unlawful naval seizure” by an Israeli gunboat of a ship carrying medicine and reconstruction material for the people of Gaza. An independent United Nations human rights expert today denounced what he described as “the unlawful naval seizure” by an Israeli gunboat of a ship carrying medicine and reconstruction material for the people of Gaza. Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said the Israeli action “implements its cruel blockade of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza.”It also violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits any form of collective punishment directed at an occupied people, he stated. A news release issued from his office in Geneva says the boat had been inspected in response to Israeli demands before departure by the port authorities in Cyprus to determine whether there were weapons on board. None were found, and Israeli authorities were so informed. “Nonetheless, the 21 peace activists on the boat were arrested, held in captivity, and have been charged with ‘illegal entry’ to Israel even though they had no intention of going to Israel,” the release states. Last month a group of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called for an end to the two-year blockade on Gaza, which has left the population of 1.5 million almost totally dependent on international aid.In addition, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly called on Israel to ease its blockade, most recently during a meeting in New York with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the entry of essential goods and services, including materials for reconstruction, spare parts for water and sanitation projects, as well as industrial and agricultural materials remain either restricted or banned outright.Maxwell Gaylard, the top UN humanitarian official in the occupied Palestinian territory, reported in May that the Gaza conflict – which took place from December last year to this January – had destroyed some 4,000 homes and damaged another 40,000. While donors have pledged billions of dollars for Gaza’s reconstruction, work cannot begin because of the blockade.