A fragile temporary truce agreed between Israel and Hamas took hold yesterday in Gaza.

As Palestinians recovered their dead and stocked up on food supplies, the world watched and hoped that this may be the beginning of a longer ceasefire.

Over the last 20 days the world has also watched as Israel inflicted an onslaught, much of which by any international legal definition stands as a war crime.

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For decades, 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza have coped with what is tantamount to a living death. Long before the latest Israeli shells and bombs rained down, the quality of Palestinians' lives has been an indictment of Israel's ruthlessness and the international community's impotence.

For decades, Palestinians in Gaza and across the West Bank have been unable to live free of fear of imprisonment without due process, to support their families through gainful employment, and to travel to visit their relatives and further their education. Israel may deny any comparisons with the repressive regime of apartheid era South Africa, but that, in reality, is what faces Palestinians today.

The time has come for Palestinians to have freedom of movement in and out of the Gaza Strip. They should be afforded unlimited import and export of supplies and goods, including unrestricted use of the Gaza seaport.

With these agreements in place, they should then be monitored and enforced by a body appointed by the United Nations.

The remarks of numerous Israeli government and military spokesmen during the current Gaza offensive, insisting that Gazans simply move to other areas to avoid bombardment, would be scarcely believable if precedence had not shown that this is par for the course.

Where, one wonders, in this narrow coastal strip of land that is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, are Gazans meant to go?

Blockaded as they are by land, sea and air, what recent TV pictures have shown is the total vulnerability of the civilian population.

All diplomatic and political pressure possible should be brought to bear to send a clear message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government that Israel can no longer act with impunity while reciting its own "victim" mantra. While Israel has the right to defend itself, the disproportionate heavy-handedness of its response is unacceptable.

It is time for the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank to be accorded their human rights.