Human rights groups demand medical access to injured Palestinians
The High Court of Justice is scheduled to review today a petition served by eight Israeli human rights groups who asked the court to order the Israel Defense Forces to vouch for the safety of medical teams in Gaza and allow injured people to be evacuated to medical facilities.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, has accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the Gaza Strip, and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded without being fired on by Israeli soldiers.
Red Cross relief workers said that on Wednesday they found four small children sitting next to their dead mothers and other corpses in a house in a part of Gaza City that had been bombed by Israeli forces. "They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses," a Red Cross statement read.
In another house, the team found 15 survivors of Israeli shelling including several wounded, according to the Red Cross. Three corpses were found in another home.
Israeli soldiers posted some 80 meters away ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do, the statement said.
The Red Cross team that found the survivors and bodies sought to evacuate them three days earlier, on January 3, but had been denied access. But even after ambulances made past the IDF post, according to the Red Cross, they could not enter the neighborhood because of "large earth walls erected by the Israeli army." Therefore, the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart.
"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories.
"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded," the organization said, adding: "The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable," the organization said in a statement.
In its reply to the petition, the state said IDF troops are under "clear instructions not to fire on ambulances and medical teams as they perform their tasks, except in cases in which they are used for fighting against the IDF, such as in cases where it is absolutely clear that an ambulance is used not to transport injured people but to move around rockets and ammunition."
According to Physicians for Human Rights, one of the eight petitioners, since Operation Cast Lead was launched in Gaza on December 27, the Israel Defense Forces have killed six members of medical teams operating in the Strip. The organization also says that medical teams called to evacuate wounded Palestinians from collapsed buildings are often prevented from tending to the injured because of IDF fire directed at them. The organization adds this also occurs in cases in which IDF forces are notified of the medical teams' arrival in advance.
The petition specifies a list of cases which supposedly ended with the death of medical personnel. According to Physicians for Human Rights, on December 31 a doctor and a medic were gunned down by a helicopter crew in the north-east of the Gaza Strip. The wounded person they were trying to evacuate, according to the nonprofit, was also killed.
Physicians for Human Rights also say that on January 4 a medic was killed when a helicopter gunship opened fire on the ambulance he was riding in at Beit Lahia.
On the same day, according to the organization, a tank fired on an ambulance dispatched to the south-western part of the Strip to evacuate a family living in Sheikh Aglin. All three personnel were killed, according to the petition. Haaretz learned that a 12-year-old boy who directed the ambulance to the wounded people was also killed, and his body was found two days later, away from where the the incident occurred.
Sources in Gaza told Haaretz that yesterday at 3 P.M., a convoy led by an ICRC truck full of medicine was prevented by the IDF frm advancing south to Khan Yunis, even though the convoy was cleared with the army in advance. The convoy included another truck with medicine and 14 ambulances with wounded people on their way to the Rafah crossing.
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