Ongoing heavy toll in Lebanon ‘unacceptable’ — Red Cross

GENEVA (AFP) — The International Committee of the Red Cross on Sunday slammed the ongoing heavy civilian casualties in the conflict in Lebanon as “unacceptable”.

“The ICRC has repeatedly expressed its concerns about insufficient precautions taken in attacks by the parties to the armed conflict,” the agency said in a statement.

“It is unacceptable that after more than 30 days of ongoing military operations, all necessary precautions to spare civilian life and those engaged in medical work have still not been taken,” it said.

The humanitarian agency highlighted an Israeli air strike Friday on hundreds of people fleeing the area of Marajayoun by car, in which six were killed and 32 were wounded.

A Lebanese Red Cross volunteer, Mikhael Jbayleh, was killed in the raid while trying to give first aid to a wounded person, it said.

Two other Lebanese Red Cross volunteers were injured when their ambulance was hit by “two projectiles” east of Tyre, although no fighting was taking place nearby, the statement said. The source of the projectiles was not identified.

“The ICRC deplores the heavy impact of hostilities on civilians and on Lebanese Red Cross emergency medical personnel and assets.” It also deplored “the continuing lack of respect for the rules governing the conduct of hostilities, such as the distinction between military objectives and civilian persons and objects”, the statement added.

The Israeli military has banned the movement of all vehicles in the region south of the Litani River, including near Tyre, warning they will be considered to be supporting Hizbollah and attacked.

Only Red Cross and UN vehicles are exempted, but they still need prior authorisation from the Israelis to travel.

In a newspaper interview Sunday, the head of the ICRC’s office in the embattled city of Tyre, Roland Huguenin, highlighted direct warnings to Israeli authorities.

“I tell and keep on repeating to Israeli authorities that they must respect the rights of victims,” he told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin, after being asked about an overall lack of distinction between civilian and military assets in the conflict.

Huguenin said the air strikes were also affecting attempts to rescue civilians buried under bombed buildings.

“The Israeli air force is shooting at all vehicles except those of the ICRC.

“As a result, when a building collapses, machines such as diggers cannot intervene to lift concrete blocks and save the people stuck in the ruins,” he explained.

Huguenin said he had been trying to help a woman and three children in a village 15 kilometres from Tyre who were sleeping in the cellar of their home when it was destroyed.

Although voices could be heard, rescuers could not bring in digging equipment to break through the ruins.

“I don’t see in what way the outcome of the conflict could be changed by allowing rescuers to get civilians out of the ruins,” he commented.

Alongside its role as a relief agency, the ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee protection for civilians and the wounded in conflicts.

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