Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described Israel's siege on the Gaza Strip as part of its "crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution," a report issued on Monday said.
"Israel's sweeping restrictions on leaving Gaza deprive its more than two million residents of opportunities to better their lives," HRW said in the report which marked the 15th anniversary of Israeli blockade on the coastal enclave.
The report added: "The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities' crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians."
"Israel's closure policy blocks most Gaza residents from going to the West Bank, preventing professionals, artists, athletes, students and others from pursuing opportunities within Palestine and from traveling abroad via Israel, restricting their rights to work and an education."
At the same time, the report said: "Restrictive Egyptian policies at its Rafah crossing with Gaza, including unnecessary delays and mistreatment of travelers, have exacerbated the closure's harm to human rights."
For 15 years, HRW said,
Palestinians in Gaza have been trapped in what is effectively an open-air prison.
The American rights group stated that "Israel bars the vast majority of Gaza residents from leaving through Erez, the only passenger crossing to the West Bank via Israel… Palestinians should have freedom of movement, especially between Gaza and the West Bank."
During the Israeli siege and "due to Israel's restrictions, Egypt's Rafah Crossing has become Gaza residents' primary outlet to the outside world."
HRW concluded: "Israel should end the generalised ban on travel to and from Gaza, and allow freedom of movement subject to, at most, individual screenings for security purposes."
It also said: "Egypt should end its restrictive policies, including delays and mistreatment of travelers, that magnify the effects of Israel's closure policy."