UN expert says Israeli seizure of aid ship a crime* Seizure illegal, Gaza blockade "crime against humanity"-UN
* Israel's U.N. envoy rejects charges
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, July 2 (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights investigator on Thursday called Israel's seizure of a ship carrying relief aid for the Gaza Strip "unlawful" and said its blockade of the territory constituted a "continuing crime against humanity".
Israeli authorities on Tuesday intercepted the vessel, which was also carrying 21 pro-Palestinian activists, and said it would not be permitted to enter Gaza coastal waters because of security risks in the area and its existing naval blockade.
Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the move was part of Israel's "cruel blockade of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza" in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting any form of collective punishment against "an occupied people".
Falk, an American expert on international law, said Israel's two-year blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza restricted vital supplies such as food, medicine and fuel to "bare subsistence levels".
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report this week that Israel was also halting entry to Gaza of building materials and spare parts needed to repair damage from its 22-day invasion late last December.
"Such a pattern of continuing blockade under these conditions amounts to such a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions as to constitute a continuing crime against humanity," Falk said in a statement released in Geneva.