Movement expresses deep concern about humanitarian situation on West Bank

Published: 12 April 2002 0:00 CET

A serious humanitarian crisis is developing on the West Bank with deep concern in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement about the lack of access to the sick and the injured, a press conference hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross was told today.

The use of Palestine Red Crescent medical staff as human shields and the humiliations imposed on them by the Israeli military were also strongly condemned.

The ICRC Director General, Paul Grossrieder, said it was absolutely unacceptable that "useless humiliations take place and are taking place" against Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and delegates in the field. He said there have been eight cases in recent days of Red Crescent personnel being used as human shields by the Israelis.

Grossrieder was speaking after a three-day mission in the region earlier this week. He was joined at the press conference by the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Didier Cherpitel who was in Ramallah on Wednesday.

Cherpitel drew attention to the facts that two PRCS medics have been killed in the recent violence and many injured while 28 have been detained over the last ten days including the President of the PRCS, Younis Al-Khatib. Three PRCS personnel remain in detention.

He said the PRCS was only able to respond to 10% of the humanitarian needs because they were systematically denied access to the sick and injured and expressed grave concern for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population who have been living under curfew for almost two weeks now, often unable to access the basics of life such as food and drinking water.

Grossrieder said that the starting point for the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and especially the ICRC is International Humanitarian Law and the obligations of the occupying power in such situations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He listed the following areas of concern. There was also a lack of access to people injured in fighting and for removal of the dead, notably in Jenin where access continues to be denied. There was also general concern about the health of the civilian population and the lack of access to medical treatment for groups such as pregnant women, diabetics and those dependent on dialysis treatment.

He said ICRC was disturbed by the destruction of houses and infrastructure such as sewage and water pipes and the breakdown of the garbage disposal system. Food needs were also worrying particularly for the poorest of the poor estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 people.

There was also the whole question of detentions and access to detainees. On the question of detentions, the Director General said the ICRC had started visits to approximately 1,200 person arrested at Ofer military camp on the West Bank and that it expects to continue these visits in accordance with a long standing agreement with the Israeli authorities.

ICRC also is also concerned to see an improvement in the working conditions of both the ICRC delegates and PRCS personnel.

He said ICRC did not object to the Israelis checking ambulances but it "should be done in a decent and a proper way." He said that the firing of warning shots and wanton damage to PRCS ambulances and ICRC vehicles did not serve any purpose.

Despite his best efforts to negotiate an improvement in the situation with the Israeli military and to introduce effective channels of communication there had been insufficient improvement in the behaviour of soldiers at checkpoints. He gave as an example of the difficult working conditions the fact that it recently took an ambulance 13 hours to travel two kilometres.

Grossrieder also strongly condemned suicide bomb attacks against civilians as totally unacceptable and against International Humanitarian Law. The Palestinian side also has to respect the Geneva Conventions, he said.

He revealed that the President of the ICRC Mr. Jakob Kellenberger has written a letter this week to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, detailing these concerns.