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Israel and the occupied / autonomous territories: Latest ICRC activities in the West Bank

11-04-2002 News Release 02/15

The situation in the West Bank in recent days has remained a matter of serious humanitarian concern, especially in Nablus and Jenin, where ICRC and Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) first-aid teams have had extremely limited access to wounded and sick people, or no access at all. Many victims have therefore gone uncared for.

Civilians have also suffered the consequences of destroyed water- and electricity-supply systems as well as curfews. When the curfew in Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qualqilia and parts of Bethlehem was finally lifted on 9 April, people who had been confined to their houses for days emerged to stock up on food and other necessities.

As of 10 April, there were six ICRC delegates in Jenin, two in Nablus, four in Ramallah, two in Bethlehem and one in Hebron, in addition to ICRC staff based in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and at the Tel Aviv delegation.

Despite difficulties that included extreme security constraints, the ICRC was able to continue its operations. The following are examples.

 Nablus  

Heavy fighting erupted on 8 April. Three ambulances were hit by bullets in the morning hours, but no injuries were reported. Two more ambulances were obliged to return to base after warning shots were fired in their direction. Thereafter, all movement of ambulances was suspended until later in the afternoon, when Red Crescent staff took some 50 wounded people from the old city to the hospital.

On 9 April the ICRC facilitated the evacuation of 25 wounded people and 10 bodies from a field clinic set up in a mosque just prior to the start of the fighting. The clinic was also provided with basic medical supplies.

On 10 April, ICRC delegates delivered medical supplies to Rafidia hospital, which had come close to running out of both food and oxygen. (These were also supplied to Al Ittihad, Watani and St Luke Hospitals.) An ICRC neurosurgeon has been operating at Rafidia hospital since February. His assignment was originally part of a three-month project (also involving three Swiss and one Australian) to provide Palestinian surgeons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with on-the-job training in cardiovascular, maxillo-facial and orthopaedic surgery, and neurotraumatology. Since the latest violence began, however, he has been doing emergency work alongside Palestinian surgeons.

On 9 April, one ICRC truck laden with tents, blankets, jerrycans and other household items reached Nablus. These supplies are being distributed through the PRCS network to families whose homes have been destroyed in recent days. This is part of the ICRC's programme to assist people in the West Bank and Gaza whose houses have been destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces.

The mosque clinic was once again supplied on 10 April. While ambulances were able to move freely outside combat zones, bodies are still awaiting evacuation from Balata Camp.

Though it has not been possible to carry out a proper assessment, there are grounds for acute concern regarding supplies of food, water and electricity in the old and new city and in the refugee camps.

 Jenin  

On 8 April the ICRC arranged for three PRCS ambulances to enter Jenin refugee camp, but each was allowed to evacuate only one patient. Staff from the ICRC were themselves not allowed access to the camp. ICRC staff nevertheless arranged with the Israeli authorities for two dialysis patients to be taken to Jenin hospital, which they also supplied with food.

As violence flared on 9 April, the ICRC arranged with both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to bring medical aid to people inside the refugee camp. In particular, this involved escorting ambulances. Following intensive negotiations with the Israeli authorities, 11 ICRC delegates and 10 ambulances from the PRCS and other organizations stood ready from the early morning till evening. A renewed escalation of violence, however, caused all attempts to enter the camp to be aborted.

The security situation in Jenin was extremely alarming on 10 April, especially in the refugee camp. The PRCS headquarters in Jenin was surrounded by tanks, allowing no movement in or out for either staff or ambulances. ICRC and PRCS staff managed to help hundreds of women, children and elderly people to leave the camp in search of safety. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees supplied them with basic necessities.

During the day, six PRCS medical staff were arrested (three were released in the evening) and – in separate incidents – one PRCS ambulance and two ICRC vehicles were damaged by tanks.

Earlier in the week, an ICRC war surgeon in Jerusalem received an urgent call from the surgeon at Jenin hospital explaining that there was no one there with the skill needed to operate on a man who had been shot in the head. Unable to reach the hospital, the surgeon stayed on the telephone and talked the surgeon step by step through the operation.

 Ramallah  

Oxygen and other medical supplies were furnished to hospitals in Ramallah sever al times in recent days. The ICRC also transported medical supplies from Ministry of Health warehouses in Ramallah to hospitals in Beit Jala, Hebron and Tulkarem. PRCS ambulances were able to move around the town after arrangements were made with the Israeli authorities through the ICRC.

Negotiations are continuing with the Israeli authorities to enable the garbage mounting in the streets to be collected before it poses a serious health risk to the population. A similar problem exists in towns all over the West Bank.

 Bethlehem  

ICRC staff took food and blood supplies to Beit Jala hospital and travelled to villages around Bethlehem to draw up lists for future distributions. On 8 April, the curfew was lifted for four hours except in the area around the Nativity Church, where – after making arrangements with the Israeli authorities – ICRC staff distributed food collected by a local charity to people who had been without food supplies for six days. This operation was carried out under severe security constraints.

On 10 April, locally donated food was delivered by the ICRC to different areas including the old city, and medical supplies were provided to various hospitals.

 Tulkarem  

Fourteen trucks of food donated by Arab Israeli organizations were brought inside the city with help from the ICRC. Twenty-three medical cases were evacuated in conjunction with Israel's Magen David Adom.

 Jordan valley  

On 8 April, two ICRC trucks loaded with food parcels and wheat flour travelled to four isolated villages in the Jordan valley to distribute supplies to 250 vulnerable families.

 Other developments  

An ICRC project ( " Anxious for News " ) was set up on 7 April to help people in Jordan stay in touch with their relatives in the West Bank now that normal means of communication have broken down. A dozen families have so far been helped by the service, which is due to be extended to other countries.