The New York Times

April 6, 2002

Red Cross Criticizes Attacks on Its Facilities


WASHINGTON, April 5 -- In a rare public rebuke of one side during
warfare, the International Committee of the Red Cross today branded
the Israeli Army's behavior "totally unacceptable" for attacking its
vehicles and buildings.

After Israeli soldiers threatened Red Cross staff members in
Bethlehem at gunpoint and two Red Cross vehicles were damaged by
Israeli tanks this week, the international committee issued a
statement saying it could no longer risk the lives of its doctors and
staff in many parts of the West Bank.

"This behavior is totally unacceptable, for it jeopardizes not only
the lifesaving work of emergency medical services, but also the
I.C.R.C.'s humanitarian mission," the statement said.

The international committee's decision to limit the movement of its
staff on the West Bank follows weeks of complaints by other
international organizations and the United Nations that the Israeli
Army was blocking their ability to feed and provide medical care to
Palestinian civilians.

The United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees complained
on Tuesday that Israeli Army officers had arrested one of its staff
members and that they had threatened the other members of a team
delivering food and medical supplies to the Ramallah hospital.

"We're quite shocked and worried about these growing incidents," said
Pierre Salignon, program director for Médecins sans Frontières, or
Doctors Without Borders. "We have had direct attacks against our

For its part, the Israeli relief society Magen David Adom, or Red
Shield of David, charged last week that the staff or the ambulances
of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society had abused their humanitarian
immunity in three incidents and "actively participated in terrorist
activity or misused the protective emblems."

Both the Israeli and Palestinian societies are under the broad
umbrella of the International Red Cross movement. They were jointly
awarded a human rights award from the University of Oslo last year
for their work.

Today's complaint from the International Committee of the Red Cross
was seen by international legal experts as an alarming sign that the
protection of civilians was becoming impossible.

"One has to take very seriously what the I.C.R.C. says," said Robert
K. Goldman, professor of humanitarian law at American University.
"This shifts the burden over to the Israelis."

Top officials from the international committee visited Israel today
and pressed the government to allow their staff safe passage to
resume transporting food and medicine to hospitals and to allow
municipal engineers to repair water pipes and electricity in the West
Bank under the escort of committee staff members.

Arthur Helton, a human rights lawyer at the Council on Foreign
Relations, said that Israel should guarantee the safety of the
committee's staff as they attempted to help civilians in the conflict.

As a Western-style democracy, Israel is expected to adhere to the
principles and practices of the Geneva Conventions, he added.

"If these rules to protect civilians and noncombatants are
disrespected, then anything goes," Mr. Helton said.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company