GENEVA, Switzerland – July 19 - One week after the start of the latest armed hostilities in Lebanon, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is extremely concerned about the grave consequences that military action is still having on the civilian population.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded, and it remains difficult to organize medical evacuations and to maintain health services. All across the country, large numbers of people are fleeing the conflict zones in dangerous circumstances. There has also been widespread destruction of public infrastructure.
The first emergency supplies from the ICRC reached Lebanon on 18 July. The organization is addressing the most pressing needs in cooperation with the Lebanese Red Cross Society, which – with its 2,400 volunteers, 42 ambulance stations and over 50 clinics and other medical facilities all over the country – has been active since the first day of the crisis.
To meet emergency needs in Lebanon over the coming month the ICRC is asking donor countries for an initial 10 million Swiss francs that will serve as a matter of priority to assist internally displaced and other vulnerable people and to support the medical and ambulance services of the Lebanese Red Cross. The ICRC is expanding its current team of six expatriates to more than 20 and reinforcing its 15-member Lebanese team. It is also coordinating the activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Lebanon.
“The first priority today is to ensure that the wounded and sick can be evacuated – that medical teams obtain access to the victims and can work safely,” said Pierre Krähenbühl, the ICRC’s director of operations. “We have reminded the Israeli authorities of their obligation under international humanitarian law to respect and protect medical personnel and their means of transport. We now expect improved access and security for medical teams.”
Mr Krähenbühl added that “the high number of civilian casualties and the extent of damage to essential public infrastructure raise serious questions regarding respect for the principle of proportionality in the conduct of hostilities.”
Under international humanitarian law the current sea and air blockade imposed on Lebanon must not prevent foodstuffs and other essential supplies from reaching the civilian population.
Hezbollah has continued to fire rockets into cities in northern Israel, killing and injuring civilians. The ICRC director of operations emphasized that Hezbollah fighters too are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law and that they must not target civilian areas.
The ICRC reminds the parties to the conflict that the obligation to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military objectives, on the other, is at the core of international humanitarian law and must be complied with at all times. It further reminds the parties of their obligation to respect the principle of proportionality in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population. All necessary precautions must be taken to spare civilian life and objects and to ensure that the wounded have access to medical facilities.