IDF Says It Is Not Preventing Medical Aid Entering Gaza

Court hears petition by four human rights groups on medical assistance in Gaza; military says helping repair damaged infrastructure.

The IDF told the High Court of Justice on Friday that it is not preventing ambulances and medicine entering the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and that most of the troops stationed in the Tel Sultan neighborhood had been withdrawn.

The announcement came at an urgent hearing to discuss a petition by four human rights groups seeking to provide medical assistance to Palestinians in the Rafah refugee camp and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

The president of the Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak, said that "the Court believes that the IDF has learned the lessons on the past in terms of dealing with the [civilian] Palestinian population." The army said that, in wake of the events in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield, the humanitarian needs of the population had been taken into account when planning the current operation.

The petition was filed Thursday by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, the Center for the Defense of the Individual and B'Tselem. The hearing was originally scheduled for Sunday, but the plaintiffs successfully argued that the urgent circumstances required the hearing to be moved forward.

The petitioners have asked the court to order the IDF to allow them to send three medical teams to Rafah. The teams would be stationed at hospitals in the Strip, where they would assess the needs of the local physicians.

The petitioners are also requesting that Palestinian medical teams and ambulances be allowed to evacuate wounded people in Rafah to other hospitals in Gaza without requiring coordination with the IDF.

However, the IDF's Gaza district coordinating office commander, Col. Yoav Mordechai, said Friday that Palestinian ambulances in Gaza were not subject to restrictions. He also denied claims that deliveries of medications were prevented from reaching Rafah, saying a truckload of medicine arrived in Rafah on Thursday night from Egypt.

Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Menahem Finkelstein denied the petitioners' claims that there was an insufficient supply of water and electricity in most areas of Rafah, and said IDF troops were fixing any problems that do exist.

The petitioners are also seeking investigation of Wednesday's incident in Rafah, in which Israeli tanks fired shells at a crowd of protesters demonstrating against the military incursion there, killing eight and wounding dozens.

The groups asked the court to instruct the IDF from firing in similar conditions in the future.