The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) has further deteriorated during first quarter of the 2004.
This period witnessed a substantial escalation of violations perpetrated by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF), while the living conditions of Palestinians has continued to worsen with the poverty and unemployment rates that have reached 9% and 39% according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The same rates increase in the southern parts of the Gaza Strip, and in the refugee community.
On 22 March 2004, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas Movement, was assassinated in a serious escalation of Israel's liquidation crimes.
The systematic targeting of civilian premises also continued during the reporting period as hundreds of homes, public and private properties and cultivated land were demolished.
Other illegal collective punishment measures were imposed by the IOF on the Palestinian people such as restrictions on access and movement to workplaces, to worship locations and to basic services.
The degrading treatment imposed on Palestinian civilians at checkpoints was maintained and exacerbated at the Erez Checkpoint in the north of the Gaza Strip.
While the IOF's actions in the OPT were vetted by Israeli political figures who publicly announced that Israel will continue its operations and violations, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, announced a unilateral plan of disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Despite its name, this plan upholds Israeli presence in certain military locations and settlements in the Strip.
It is clear that this plan's main aim is to draw the attention of the international community away from the perpetration of war crimes ongoing in the OPT, rather than to achieve peace.
Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, a total 1,363 of Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip.
During the period of 1 January to 31 March 2004, the following casualties and damages on Palestinian civilian lives and property at the occasion of 64 IOF incursions and other IOF operations: 70 Palestinian have been killed during the 64 IOF incursions 19 Palestinians have been killed during the 7 assassination operations The overall total of Palestinian casualties is 128, including 25 children and 5 women 1 British male deceased from Israeli bullet wounds sustained in 2003 227 persons have been wounded 161 homes have been demolished 21 Palestinians have been arrested and detained