Global Policy Forum

Palestinian Red Crescent Accuses Israel of Blocking Access

The Palestinian Red Crescent has accused Israel of violating international humanitarian law by blocking the relief organization's access to Palestinians in need of assistance.  The accusations are based on 161 events in 2010.  The Red Crescent claims that these violations were calculated by Israel to worsen the already terrible living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

By Katie Nguyen

January 4, 2011

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has accused Israeli forces of violating international humanitarian law in 161 incidents against their crews and medical teams in 2010.

In the vast majority of incidents, Israeli forces blocked the Red Crescent's access to Palestinians needing help, prevented their transfer to specialised medical centres or held ambulances and crews at checkpoints for up to two hours, the PRCS said.

It recorded several attacks against its staff and ambulances, including an allegation that Israeli soldiers beat one Red Crescent volunteer, arrested two others and confiscated their medical equipment.
In another incident, the PRCS said tear gas was directly fired at one of its ambulances while its crew was still inside.

"These violations constitute an integral part of Israeli policies against Palestinians which aim, inter alia, at creating dire living and health conditions as well as limiting the role played by PRCS and its humanitarian services," the aid group said in a statement.

PRCS officials were not immediately available for further comment.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, which operates in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, was founded in 1968 by Fathi Arafat, the late physician brother of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.

It was officially recognised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and admitted into the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in 2006 - at the same time as Israel's emergency service, Magen David Adom.

The move came after the two emergency services signed a deal to cooperate to improve access to conflict victims in 2005.

However, the Palestinian Red Crescent has long accused the Israeli army of targeting ambulance workers, delaying passage through checkpoints and hindering access to the wounded - particularly since the second Intifada uprising against Israeli occupation in which Palestinian militants stepped up suicide bombings.

Israel says it has had to restrict ambulance passage because militants have often used ambulances to bypass security checks at roadblocks.

The PRSC said the range of these incidents breached several international humanitarian law provisions, including Article 20 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that medical workers engaged in searching for, transporting and caring for wounded and sick civilians should be respected and protected.

Meanwhile, Article 15 of Additional Protocol I states that an "Occupying Power" should provide civilian medical personnel every assistance to enable them to perform their humanitarian function. Personnel should have access to any place where their services are essential, it adds.

International humanitarian law (IHL) regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects on civilians, medics and aid workers. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which form IHL, are universally applicable.

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