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The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has pleaded for all parties in armed conflicts to respect international humanitarian law and protect medical missions from attack.
“Unfortunately this has not been the case in some situations,” said Jakob Kellenberger, the committee's president, referring to the fighting that broke out on 20 May in Nahr al-Bared, the Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon, between the militant group Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army.
The committee made it clear to all parties involved, he said, that they had to respect medical activities in the camp.
In an urgent appeal to all sides the committee said, “Medical personnel and humanitarian workers must be allowed to carry out their tasks and have unimpeded access to the wounded. Medical personnel, vehicles, and facilities must be spared the consequences of the violence.”
Mr Kellenberger said that the situation in the camp was very tense. “We remain extremely concerned about the security of up to 20000 civilians who are still inside the camp and who need protection and assistance activities,” he said.
He added that the committee was working closely with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Lebanese Red Cross Society, supplying them with materials for their medical activities inside and outside the camp, and he paid tribute to their “very good work.”
The two societies, the committee said in a statement, had evacuated more than 80 wounded people from the camp (including an unspecified number of civilians), 26 people with other medical conditions, 35 bodies, and 430 uninjured civilians.
Moreover, a convoy of 11 committee trucks had provided 220 tonnes of food items, brought from Amman, for the victims inside and outside the camp, and it was also delivering thousand of litres of drinking water.
Of the 15000 people who have fled Nahr al-Bared since 20 May, about 10000 have sought shelter in the nearby Beddawi refugee camp, the committee says.
Mr Kellenberger said he believed that worldwide there would be an increase in the number of internally displaced persons this year fleeing acute violence, as seen in Somalia, Iraq, and in recent months in Sri Lanka.
Concerning Iraq, he said the committee had recently increased funding by an additional SFr35m (£14.4m; €21.2m; $29m) to SFr91m, for urgent humanitarian assistance in food and non-food items, repair of water systems, and medical assistance.
He said the hospitals in Iraq suffered from “a lack of medical instruments and lack of medicines” and that they needed more support to enable them to face this emergency situation.
The situation is aggravated, he said, by the departure of highly qualified staff, not just medical staff but also engineers and others, who leave in “great numbers.”
Mr Kellenberger said he was also “extremely worried” about the deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories
The committee's largest operations in 2007 are in Sudan, centred on Darfur, as well as Iraq, the occupied and autonomous Palestinian territories, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
Overall last year more than 2.3 million people benefited from the 193 hospitals and 303 other healthcare facilities around the world supported by the Red Cross, says the committee's report on its operations in 2006.
“Over 65000 operations were performed in committee-supported hospitals, and close to 142000 people received services in physical rehabilitation centres run or supported by the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross],” the report notes.
Moreover, a total of 10064 new patients were rehabilitated with prostheses and 18384 with orthoses, and 3031 wheelchairs were distributed.
Last year the committee also helped 3.5 million displaced people in 19 countries, and its delegates visited 478299 detainees in more than 2500 places of detention in 71 countries.
The Annual Report 2006 of the International Committee of the Red Cross is available at www.icrc.org.