Mourners carry the body of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member during his funeral this week [Reuters]

Five Palestinians have been trapped for days after Israel destroyed a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip

Published on Al Jazeera English on November 3, 2017.

Rescue teams in Gaza have been unable to reach five Palestinians trapped in a tunnel destroyed earlier this week by Israeli forces in the Khan Younis area.

Seven Palestinians belonging to Gaza’s military brigades of Islamic Jihad and Hamas were killed and a dozen others wounded after Israel blew up a tunnel near the border in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday.

Human rights groups have filed a petition to Israel’s Supreme Court demanding that the Israeli military allow rescue teams to recover the missing individuals.

“The rescue teams managed to come within 300 meters of the border fence but are unable to reach the trapped and missing persons … because of the prohibition imposed by the Israeli army on Palestinians approaching any location that is less than 300 meters from the fence,” Muna Haddad, a lawyer with the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, wrote in the petition.

“Preventing the location and rescue of missing persons in the area currently under Israeli military control is a blatantly illegal policy.”

No-go zone

The Israeli-declared “buffer zone” runs along the Gaza side of the Israeli border. Rescue teams cannot cross the imaginary line and enter the no-go zone for fear of coming under fire from the Israeli army.

Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, has said that Israel “would not allow search efforts in the Gaza Strip security zone without progress on the issue of Israeli POWs [prisoners of war] and MIAs [missing in action]”.

Israel contends that Hamas has been withholding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in the last Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

Adalah and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights filed the petition on Thursday on behalf of Hassan Abdel Jalil Sbahi, the father of one of the missing men.

The groups accused Mordechai and the Israeli military’s southern command chief, Eyal Zamir, of “using the trapped Gazans as bargaining chips”.

Allowing injured people to receive medical treatment, evacuation of bodies, and immunity for ambulances and medical teams is a basic principle of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, the petition noted.

“Hence, the movement of rescue and medical teams should also be unrestricted, allowing them to search and locate the missing persons without delay, thus increasing their chances of being rescued alive.”

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