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ICRC appeal to all involved in violence in the Near East

21-11-2000 News Release 00/42

Geneva (ICRC) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is extremely concerned about the consequences in humanitarian terms of the persisting violence in the Near East. Since the end of September, the ICRC has repeatedly called upon all those involved in the violence to observe the restraints imposed by international humanitarian law and its underlying principles and, in particular, to ensure respect for civilians, for the wounded, for medical personnel and for those who are no longer taking part in the hostilities. To date, the intense clashes have left more than 200 people dead and thousands wounded. The ICRC is particularly worried about the large number of casualties among unarmed civilians and even children during clashes and the high proportion of wounds caused by live ammunition and rubber or plastic-coated bullets.

In the context of the Palestinian uprising against Israel as the Occupying Power, the ICRC stresses the fact that the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War remains fully applicable and relevant.

The ICRC once more reminds all those taking an active part in the violence that whenever force is used the choice of means and methods is not unlimited. It reiterates its appeal to all those involved in the violence or in a position to influence the situation to respect and to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and its underlying principles in all circumstances. Terrorist acts are absolutely and unconditionally prohibited, as are reprisals against the civilian population, indiscriminate attacks and attacks directed against the civilian population.

To avoid endangering th e civilian population, those bearing weapons and all those who take part in violence must distinguish themselves from civilians. Armed and security forces must spare and protect all civilians who are not or are no longer taking part in the clashes, in particular children, women and the elderly.  The use of weapons of war against unarmed civilians cannot be authorized.

The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for regardless of the party to which they belong. Ambulances and members of the medical services must be respected and protected. They must be allowed to circulate unharmed so that they can discharge their humanitarian duties. All those who take part in the confrontations must respect the medical services, whether deployed by the armed forces, civilian facilities, the Palestine Red Crescent Society or the Magen David Adom in Israel.

To date, dozens of Palestine Red Crescent ambulances and many of its staff have come under fire while conducting their medical activities in the occupied territories.  Ambulances belonging to the Magen David Adom have also been attacked. The ICRC once again calls on all those involved in the violence to respect medical personnel, hospitals and other medical establishments, and also ambulances, other medical transports and supplies.

Any misuse of the emblems protecting the medical services is a violation of international humanitarian law and puts the personnel working under those emblems at risk. The ICRC calls on all persons involved in violence to refrain from misuse of the protective emblems and calls on all the authorities concerned to prevent or repress such practices.

All persons arrested must be respected and protected against any form of violence. The detaining authority must authorize the ICRC to have access to such persons, wherever they may be, so that its delegates may ascertain their well-being and forward news to their families.

The ICRC is increasingly concerned by the consequences in humanitarian terms of the presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, which is contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and by the effects of curfews and the sealing-off of certain areas by the Israeli Defense Forces. As an Occupying Power, Israel may restrict the freedom of movement of the resident population, but only when and in so far as military necessity so dictates.  Restrictions on movement by means of curfews or the sealing-off of areas may in no circumstances amount to collective penalties, nor should they severely hinder the daily life of the civilian population or have dire economic consequences. Moreover, the Occupying Power has the duty to ensure an adequate level of health care, including free access to hospitals and medical services, and may not obstruct the circulation of food supplies. All institutions devoted to the care and education of children must be allowed to function normally. Religious customs must be respected, which implies access to places of worship to the fullest extent possible.

Lastly, the ICRC calls upon the authorities concerned and all those involved in the violence to facilitate the work of the volunteers of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the Magen David Adom in Israel, its own delegates and those of the International Federation. Despite tremendous difficulties, these volunteers and delegates have worked tirelessly to bring assistance to the victims of the clashes, often at great risk to their own lives.