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"Majdal Shams Hospital" project, occupied Golan: ICRC statement

20-06-2006 Statement

Statement to the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent by ICRC President Dr Jakob Kellenberger, 20 June 2006, on the establishment of an emergency and diagnostic centre at Majdal Shams.

 Agenda item 3.1. (Report of the Standing Commission on follow-up to Res. 3 of the 28th International Conference [2003] and issues raised at the Diplomatic Conference):   Information by the ICRC on the establishment of "Majdal Shams Hospital", ICRC-supported emergency and diagnostic centre in the occupied Golan  .  

    

  check against delivery  

At the diplomatic conference held here last December, and following a debate relating to the medical needs of the population of the occupied Golan, I confirmed that the ICRC was ready to provide additional medical assistance to the population in the part of the Golan occupied by Israel.

An earlier medical assessment conducted by the ICRC in 2002 had already identified some needs in the field of health and medical attention in that region. The momentum created by the diplomatic conference allowed the project to gain the necessary support for its realisation. The ICRC acted immediately after the diplomatic conference. Since last December it has been proceeding to all the necessary technical and medical assessments. The ICRC has been in constant and close contact with the local community, medical doctors and community leaders to formulate a community-based project. It has contracted a local architect who is now drawing up the final architectural plans for the medical centre, to be built on the site of a previous health structure in Majdal Shams. The land on which the new centre is planned to be built belongs to the Waqf (the religious endowment) and was offered to the ICRC for the purpose of the project.

This emergency and high-tech diagnostic centre, also to be called " Majdal Shams Hospital " , is to provide primary and secondary health care services to a population of some twenty thousand people; the emergency unit will be open 24 hours a day, with eight observation beds. This facility will feature emergency medical equipment for advanced life support, including a resuscitation room, two operating rooms for minor surgery, high tech diagnostic and laboratory services and a physiotherapy unit. These advanced medical services will be provided by trained and professional staff currently living in the occupied Golan, including general practioners, gynaecologist, paediatrician, orthopaedist, nurses, and administrative staff. In addition, the ICRC will also provide " Majdal Shams Hospital " with two ambulances, one stationed at the facility, and the other one at the Golan town of Masade. The project was designed in such a way that it will allow for future extension, as per needs.

The project is currently estimated at about 4.7 million Swiss francs, and the ICRC has already secured a budget for its early implementation.

During all the assessment and preparatory phase - which, I remind you, was done in constant consultation with the local community and community leaders - the ICRC has regularly kept all concerned or interested parties informed, that is: Israel, as the occupying power, the Syrian authorities, both through the permanent mission in Geneva and in Damascus, as well as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society. The ICRC obtained the written commitment of the government of Israel to support the project and to facilitate its establishment and operation as a matter of priority. I quote from a letter addressed to me by the Israeli Ambassador in Geneva: " Israel welcomes the proposal of the International Committee of the Red Cross to establish an emergency medical facility and diagnostic centre in Majdal Shams. (…) Israel reiterates its support for the project and will work to facilitate its establishment and operation as a matter of priority. "

On 15 June, the ICRC was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Waqf and the local community to formalize the official launch of the project. The signature was to be followed by a small ceremony in the grounds of the future medical facility in Majdal Shams. To the ICRC's utmost surprise, the local community proposed to adjourn the ceremony, for which all had been prepared, on the grounds that the Syrian authorities did not want the project to be implemented. On 18 June, the ICRC received a written communication from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which opposed the implementation of " Majdal Shams Hospital " on the alleged grounds that the ICRC was violating international humanitarian law by providing this medical assistance directly under its flag.

This interpretation of international humanitarian law is not correct: according to Art 59 of the 4th Geneva Convention, the ICRC, as an impartial humanitarian organisation, is mandated to provide medical and other relief schemes for a population under occupation. I quote from Article 59:

 "If the whole or part of the population of an occupied territory is inadequately supplied, the Occupying Power shall agree to relief schemes on behalf of the said population, and shall facilitate them by all the means at its disposal.  

    

 "Such schemes, which may be undertaken either by States or by impartial humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, shall consist, in particular, of the provision of consignments of foodstuffs, medical supplies and clothing." (...)  

Faithful to the rules of international humanitarian law, the ICRC sees its commitment as the genuine implementation of the dispositions of the 4th Geneva Convention.

The establishment of the " Majdal Shams Hospital " corresponds to the well-assessed medical needs of the population in the occupied Golan. This project will not be jeopardised by non-humanitarian considerations. We shall go ahead in its realisation with determination, driven uniquely by humanitarian considerations and in full conformity with international humanitarian law. I am convinced that, by doing so, we are acting in the way the Diplomatic Conference expected us to act; we kept the promise.

Thank you.