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Israel and the occupied and autonomous territories: Red Crescent ambulance driver saved by bullet-proof vest

21-03-2002 News Release 02/12

No one is more keenly aware of the risks taken by ambulance personnel than Mohammed El Hessi, a 26-year-old Palestine Red Crescent (PRCS) paramedic who was called to the scene of a gunboat attack on a security post north of Gaza City on the night of 7 March. Mohammed, who responded to the call along with three of his colleagues, would be dead today had it not been for the bullet-proof vest he was wearing. Such vests have been supplied to the PRCS by the ICRC, with the knowledge of the Israeli authorities. Mohammed suffered serious shrapnel wounds as his team attempted to retrieve two bodies. A piece of metal was subsequently found embedded in the ceramic back-plate of his vest. A second PRCS ambulance team came to the rescue and managed to evacuate the dead and wounded after more than an hour. Mohammed was rushed to a hospital in Gaza, and his life is now out of danger. During the same rescue operation, a member of an ambulance team from the local medical services was killed. 

" Without a doubt, the bullet-proof vest saved his life, " said Dr Fayez Jibril, head of the PRCS's emergency medical service in Gaza, as he examined Mohammed's bloodstained vest the following morning. " This is where the shrapnel lodged. If it had pierced his body, it would have gone straight to his heart. "

Mohammed's narrow escape illustrates just how dangerous rescue work can be. On 4 March, the head of the PRCS emergency medical service in Jenin, Dr Khalil Sulieman, was tragically killed in an attack on his ambulance while he was attempting to rescue a nine-year-old girl. On 7 March, two more paramedics were killed, one from the PRCS, when their ambulances came under fire in Tulkarem. At least nine other ambulance workers have been wounded in recent weeks during rescue operations in the Palestinian territories.

Respect for medical personnel, ambulances and medical facilities bearing the protective red cross and red crescent emblems is compulsory under international humanitarian law. Any violation of this rule puts the safety of all medical and humanitarian workers in jeopardy. For Werner Kaspar, ICRC head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa, " The ICRC's current priority is to ensure that both Palestinian and Israeli wounded and sick have access to emergency medical services. After the tragic incidents of the last few weeks, we have now obtained renewed security guarantees from the Israeli authorities. Today, ICRC teams in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are working more closely than ever with their PRCS colleagues. "