Israeli forces assault medical personnel
8 March 2002

Following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's earlier declaration to
hit the Palestinians hard, this morning, Israeli forces and tanks, backed
by Apache helicopters, entered the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. Israeli
armed forces also entered the nearby town of Beit Jala and the Aida and
Dheisheh refugee camps. Until now, at least four Palestinians have been
killed and dozens have been injured.

Since the morning ambulances and medical personnel have been completely
prevented from movement. At 12.40 pm, an ambulance, belonging to al-
Jamameh hospital, which is located on the main street in south Bethlehem,
was stopped from leaving the hospital to evacuate injured Palestinians in
other parts of the city. At that moment, an Israeli tank approached the
hospital to block the ambulance. Ahmad al-Khoudari (42), the director of
the hospital, came out to negotiate with the Israeli soldiers, who were
inside and around the tank, trying to convince them to allow the
ambulance to leave the hospital and evacuate the injured. Before he could
finish, heavy gunshots were fired from the tank, killing the hospital
director instantly. Three 500mm bullets were fired at him directly from
close range. He was a father of five.

The Israeli forces present ordered everyone to leave the hospital. The
sick and wounded were transferred to other hospitals in the area and
staff left the hospital and started to work as paramedics in the field to
help evacuate injured Palestinians in various parts of the city. During
this Israeli military operation, the hospital has become an Israeli
target. At this moment, Israeli forces continue to hinder ambulances and
medical personell to evacuate the sick and injured from various places.

Yesterday, Israeli forces shot and killed two medical personnel in
Tulkarem. An Israeli tank positioned at the western entrance of Tulkarem
refugee camp opened heavy fire at a United Nations ambulance, killing
Kamal Abdelrahman Salem (35), a volunteer at the United Nations. A single
500mm bullet entered his back, penetrated the heart and killed him
instantly. The ambulance had been transporting a critically wounded camp
resident to the hospital. An Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) and
tank stopped the ambulance at the camp entrance and held it for 20
minutes, thoroughly checking the vehicle before allowing it to proceed.
The critically wounded camp resident died en route to the hospital.

Two ambulances belonging to the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS) which
responded to calls to evacuate injured Palestinians were targetted by an
Israeli tank positioned in the eastern part of Tulkarem.

The Israeli tank opened heavy fire at the ambulances, hitting the driver
of the first ambulance, Ibrahim Mohammad As'ad (38), in his shoulder and
injured Safiyah Balbisi (24), a paramedic, who sat beside him, with
shrapnel in her head and shoulder. The driver shouted to the Israeli
soldiers that he was driving an ambulance and he stepped out. Safiyah
Balbisi also left the ambulance and she tried to reach the second
ambulance which was driving behind them.

While the driver tried to escape from gunfire, the Israeli tank
commanders chased him. He fell on the ground. Instead of saving his life,
the soldiers shot him point blank in his forehead. The circumstances
suggest that he was executed in cold blood.

As Safiyah Balbisi managed to reach the second ambulance, she found the
driver, Ra'ed Ghaleb Yasin (34), injured by shrapnel in his head and
face, and Mahmoud Hussein Bijawi (30), injured with shrapnel in his head,
chest, and right shoulder. A few minutes later, Israeli forces shot and
injured Dr. Nabhan Jallad (51), director of PRCS' Emergency Unit in
Tulkarem, in the leg inside the ambulance station.

Earlier this week, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian physician, Dr.
Khalil Sulieman (58), head of PRCS' Emergency Unit in Jenin. An Israeli
tank fired a shell at the ambulance while it tried to evacuate an injured
young girl in Jenin refugee camp. The driver and four paramedics were
injured that day.

Repeated assaults, shootings and shelling by the Israeli military during
the current Palestinian uprising have caused the health needs of the
civilian population of the Occupied PAlestinian Territories to outstrip
the available medical services. Israeli soldiers and commanders have
delayed ambulances transporting the injured, physically mistreated
doctors and other health care professionals, raided medical facilities,
and adopted measures which reduce the quality and availability of health
services. These abuses illustrate a disregard for the most fundamental
humanitarian norms on the part of the Israeli occupation army. Even the
minimum international standards governing the treatment of wounded
civilians and medical personnel have been violated by the Israeli army in
their conduct towards Palestinian civilians.

International humanitarian law requires that ambulances and health
facilities be free from any military attack, medical personnel be
respected and protected, and the sick and injured be humanelyn treated
and receive prompt access to medical care. Yet, as the cases described
above demonstrate, injured Palestinian civilians and medical teams
providing them with aid have been denied these basic protections.

Violations of the standards articulated by international humanitarian law
have been criticized by numerous local and international humanitarian
agencies during the past 17 months. Despite these complaints, little
action, in terms of either investigation or disciplinary action, has been
taken by the Israeli authorities to end these abuses.

In view of the urgency of the present situation, LAW Society strongly
condemns the on going violations of human rights and international
humanitarian law, including those acts that amount to war crimes
perpetrated by the Israeli occupation forces with impunity and urges the
international community to immediately fulfill their legal obligations to
ensure Israel's respect of the Fourth Geneva Convention and end its
occupation of the Gaza strip and West Bank
(including East Jerusalem), and to provide immediate and effective
international protection for Palestinian civilians in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories. LAW Society additionally calls for a thorough,
independent, and effective international investigation into violations of
the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,
including war crimes, and calls for those found responsible for such
actions to be tried before an international court.
___________________________

LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the
Environment is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to preserving
human rights through legal advocacy. LAW is affiliate to the
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Federation Internationale
des Ligues de Droits de l'Homme (FIDH) and the World Organisation
Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the
Environment, PO Box 20873, Jerusalem, tel. +972-2-5833530, fax. +972-2-
5833317, email: law@lawsociety.org, web: http://www.lawsociety.org