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Middle East: ICRC voices serious concern amid worsening violence

13-07-2006 Interview

In light of the worsening situation in the Middle East where civilian casualties continue to mount, the ICRC's head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa, Georgios Comninos, talks about the organization's main concerns.

 Given the current crisis in the Middle East, what is the ICRC's message to the parties involved?  


First of all, I would like to underline the ICRC's serious concern about the humanitarian consequences of the current conflict affecting the civilian population whether in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon or Israel. Our main message to the parties engaged in the conflict is the following: it is essential in all circumstances to respect and protect the civilian population and those not participating or no longer participating in hostilities. 

As a general rule, the parties must allow access to and evacuation of the injured and, more specifically in the Gaza Strip, that the civilian population be supplied with essential items as required under the Geneva Conventions.

It is equally important to stress the parties'obligations concerning the treatment of people taken prisoner or detained. These people must be treated with humanity and to standards that conform to the Geneva Conventions. 

 How confident are you that the ICRC and the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies of the region and the Magen David Adom will be able to safely carry out their humanitarian mission in light of the present situation?  

Let's remind ourselves first that the ICRC works in the field in close partnership with the National Societies. With regard to the Lebanese Red Cross, whose capacity we must underline, we are d ealing with a National Society that benefits from a vast experience and which has, in the past, played a frontline role on the humanitarian field. Together, we should be capable of responding to a humanitarian emergency. 

The Magen David Adom has a great response capacity and solid experience. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that northern Israel has been confronted with violence and the MDA should play an important role in the evacuation of the injured and in meeting the needs of the population. 

We should add that there are other humanitarian organizations active in the region which operate ambulances. These should be accorded the same respect as those that bear the emblems of the red cross or the red crescent.

 What are the ICRC's planned responses to the humanitarian needs in the area following the escalation of violence?  

ICRC teams on the ground stand ready to increase their response whether since the beginning of military operations in Gaza or in Lebanon. Our clear objective in the field is to act in close partnership with the National Societies on behalf of the population. ICRC employees, expatriates and local staff, are an efficient network and we are going to use it.

First of all, we have to carry on our evaluations because on a daily basis we have to be aware of the nature and importance of the needs. On that basis, we will provide a proper response. If asked, the ICRC will also act as a neutral intermediary. Parties to the conflict may require us to play a specific role such as visiting those captured and detained, a task we try to carry out in all conflicts.

Another aspect of the ICRC's work, in addition to what's accomplished in the field, is to remind parties to respect international humanitarian law. As the guardian of international hu manitarian law, it is for the ICRC to remind parties through bilateral meetings and, if necessary, publicly, of their obligations to protect and respect all those who are not taking part or who are no longer taking part in hostilities.