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|January 9, 2009|
By ALAN COWELL
Published: January 8, 2009
PARIS — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had discovered “shocking” scenes — including small children next to their mothers’ corpses — when its representatives gained access for the first time to parts of Gaza battered by Israeli shelling. It accused Israel of failing to meet obligations to care for the wounded in areas of combat.
In an unusually blunt criticism, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had been seeking access to shell-damaged areas in Zeitoun in the east of Gaza City since Saturday but the Israeli authorities granted permission only on Wednesday — the first day that Israel allowed a three-hour lull in the attacks on Gaza on humanitarian grounds. The statement said a team of four Palestine Red Crescent ambulances accompanied by Red Cross representatives made its way to Zeitoun Wednesday where it “found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.”
In another house, the statement said, the rescue team “found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israeli Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.”
Because of berms built by Israeli forces, the ambulances could not enter the area so “the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart,” the statement said.
The statement quoted Pierre Wettach, an International Red Cross representative for Israel and the Palestinian areas, as calling the incident “shocking.” “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded,” he was quoted as saying.
The statement said the international Red Cross “believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.”