Palestine Red Crescent paramedics under pressure

Published: 11 April 2002 0:00 CET

Sébastien Carliez, in Ramallah and Jerusalem

Over the past ten days, 28 Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) paramedics have been arrested while carrying out their humanitarian work including the PRCS President Younis Al-Khatib who was released following a campaign by the International Federation and its members.

The arrest and detention of PRCS paramedics is continuing despite pleas made yesterday to the Israeli authorities by the leadership of the International Federation during a special mission to Israel and Palestine.

Six PRCS paramedics were arrested yesterday in the West Bank city of Jenin. Three were later released, eight kilometres from Jenin, and were told not to return by the army.

The six medics were providing food, water and medical care to civilians fleeing military operations in the Jenin refugee camp. Israeli soldiers ordered them to undress, and they were seen blindfolded, handcuffed and being loaded into armoured personnel carriers, according to the PRCS. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The PRCS ambulance station in Jenin, situated in the outskirts of the camp, has been receiving a continuous stream of hundreds of mostly women and children fleeing destruction. Medical missions have been prevented from reaching the camp for the past week.

"These detentions and the denial of humanitarian assistance to the suffering civilian population are completely unacceptable. We had some hope that as a result of our meetings yesterday at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs the situation would improve. The Federation has repeatedly emphasised the need for unimpeded access to the sick and injured for the PRCS and an end to the detention of PRCS paramedics carrying out their humantarian mission," said Didier Cherpitel, Secretary General of the International Federation.

The President of the International Federation, Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, and Secretary General Cherpitel, visited both Israel and Palestine yesterday. In Palestine, they spent three hours in Ramallah with the leadership of the PRCS led by President Younis Al-Khatib. They were accompanied on their visit by René Kosirnik, Head of Delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which has the lead role for the Movement in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

"In line with the humanitarian values and principles of our Movement we are here to show compassion for all the victims and solidarity with PRCS work. The health situation is deteriorating, in the entire West Bank and in Ramallah where we met this morning with the PRCS, "said President Suárez del Toro.

The visiting Federation delegation was told by PRCS President Al-Khatib that "Children and women are particularly at risk. We have reports that some inhabitants of the Jenin refugee camp have started drinking raw sewage."

"Our operations are further hindered by these arrests," declared Dr. Hossam Sharkawi, the PRCS emergency response coordinator. "We are getting short of staff and desperately trying to bring additional medics into our station."

The PRCS has three ambulances in Jenin and is presently bringing another three from the nearby city of Tulkarem. In another incident yesterday, two PRCS paramedics were also arrested in Hebron, in the south of the West Bank.