Red Cross Reports Grisly Find in Gaza
Israel Accused of Blocking Aid to Wounded
By Craig Whitlock
JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had found at least 15 bodies and several children — emaciated but alive — in a row of shattered houses in the Gaza Strip and accused the Israeli military of preventing ambulances from reaching the site for four days.
Red Cross officials said rescue crews had received specific reports of casualties in the houses and had been trying since Saturday to send ambulances to the area, located in Zaytoun, a neighborhood south of Gaza City. They said the Israeli military did not grant permission until Wednesday afternoon.
In an unusual public statement issued by its Geneva headquarters, the Red Cross called the episode “unacceptable” and said the Israeli military had “failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.”
When rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent arrived at the site, they found 12 corpses lying on mattresses in one home, along with four young children lying next to their dead mothers, the Red Cross said. The children were too weak to stand and were rushed to a hospital, the agency said.
In the Zaytoun incident, the Red Cross said its workers evacuated 18 wounded survivors from the houses in donkey carts. They said ambulances could not reach the site because of earthen barriers erected around the neighborhood by the Israeli military. Red Cross officials said that Israeli soldiers posted nearby tried to chase rescue workers away from the site but that the rescuers refused to leave.
“This is a shocking incident,” Pierre Wettach, the Red Cross’s head of delegation for Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement. “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.
The Geneva Conventions provide that parties to a conflict “at all times” should “without delay” take “all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.” The conventions also say that wounded “shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care.”
The Red Cross said it was able to remove only three of the bodies and had received reports of other casualties in the neighborhood. The agency said that it was trying to return to the site but that negotiations with the Israeli military to guarantee safe passage were ongoing.
Palestinian journalists confirmed that large numbers of wounded survivors, including children, had arrived at Red Cross hospitals in Gaza from Zaytoun on Wednesday. Other details could not be independently corroborated; the Israeli military has barred foreign journalists from entering Gaza.
There have been other reports of wounded Gazans who have been forced to wait many hours or even days for ambulances since the Israeli offensive began Dec. 27, including several in the Zaytoun neighborhood.