January 13, 2009
Red Cross chief calls for protection for Gaza medics
01.12.2009 | AFP
GAZA CITY (AFP) — International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger on Tuesday called for medical workers in Gaza to be protected as he visited the battered territory in the midst of an Israeli war.
“I wanted to see this hospital,” he said outside Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital that, short-staffed and low on supplies, has been straining to handle the wounded from Israel’s deadliest offensive on Gaza.
“And I can only say this is really very sad and it hurts a lot when you see what I’ve just seen. It’s absolutely indispensable and not negotiable that (the) medical mission in such a conflict has to be protected,” he said.
At least 12 medics have been killed since Israel unleashed its Operation Cast Lead on Hamas in Gaza on December 27.
In all the massive offensive has killed 935 people, including 280 children, and wounded another 4,260, according to Gaza medics.
Kellenberger arrived in Gaza on Tuesday at the start of a three-day visit to Palestinian territories and Israel during which he plans to hold talks with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The ICRC, which has a dual role as a relief agency in conflicts and the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, has been unusually outspoken over the past week about the impact of the fighting on civilians and health workers.
Last Thursday, the agency accused Israel of failing to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for the wounded after it found a group of wounded people and corpses unattended near an Israeli army position.
The ICRC has also put on public record its concern about the number of casualties and civilian buildings, including hospitals, damaged in the fighting, underlining that international law forbids any attacks on civilians.
Kellenberger has backed up repeated calls for unrestricted safe passage for ambulances at all times.
On Tuesday the agency complained in a daily report that access to the wounded was still limited due to the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian Hamas militants.
“We now have to assess on a case-by-case basis whether we can go on a rescue mission to evacuate people in need,” said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza.
More than 28,000 displaced people had sought refuge in schools that were turned into temporary shelters, while food was becoming scarce and fuel supplies that power generators at Al-Shifa hospital were running low.
“Many of the wounded come in with multiple trauma, and the number of amputations is on the rise,” said Palina Asgeirsdottir, an ICRC health delegate at the hospital.
The ICRC surgical team there “confirms a rise in the number of children arriving at the emergency room.”