Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Civilians killed as Israelis target ambulances | The World | The Australian

The Australian
Civilians killed as Israelis target ambulances
Martin Chulov, Tyre
July 26, 2006

IT is meant to be a universally recognised symbol of neutrality and a guaranteed passage of protection for the victims of armed conflict.

But at least 10 Lebanese ambulances bearing the emblem of the international red cross have instead become targets in Israeli air strikes that have killed more than a dozen civilian passengers being transported to hospitals in the south of the country.

The latest attack occurred on Sunday night near the small village of Quna, where two ambulances travelling in convoy were fired on by an Israeli Apache helicopter as they sped to the besieged port city of Tyre.

One of the Israeli rockets pierced the centre of the large red cross marked on the roof of one of the ambulances, as if it was used as a target.

Both ambulances' roofs were marked with crosses, blue lights flashed above them and giant International Red Cross flags flew from their rear doors.
They were carrying members of the Fawaz family, who had been slightly injured during earlier bombing.

The convoy was struck by two rockets fired from an Apache helicopter, just before midnight, severely injuring all six people on board.

Ahmed Mohammed Fawaz lost his leg below his knee and will likely lose the other. His 14-year-old son Ahmed suffered serious wounds to his abdomen and the back of his head. He writhed in semi-conscious pain yesterday in the Jabal Amal hospital in Tyre as his mother, Jamila, lay unconscious nearby, her black hijab draped over stark white sheets and bandages.

In another ward, Qasin Shalin, the driver of the first ambulance, and the only one of six people to have escaped with light injuries, sat upright in bed, surrounded by the orange-clad men of Lebanon's Red Cross, who have come to be known as the country's bravest civil servants.

Only two of the region's estimated 60 ambulance crews have refused to turn up to work in the past week. One of the missing crews had narrowly escaped a missile themselves.

Mr Shalin was spared more serious injuries by the armoured vest he was wearing and the driver's canopy that protected him from a direct hit.

He remembers nothing after the flash and bang of the missile then the crunch of the crash as his ambulance veered off road.

Hospital officials in southern Lebanon have accused Israel of violating the Geneva convention by failing to respect the red cross symbol by attacking ambulances on at least 10 occasions in the two-week war that has claimed at least 12 more fire trucks and civil defence vehicles travelling between Tyre and the Israeli border.

"What is the purpose of targeting ambulances?" asked the hospital's director of nursing, Abdullah Narwaz.

"This is beyond crazy, this is a lack of humanity."

The Israeli Defence Force has not commented about its targeting of ambulances, but in the past has said militants in the West Bank and Gaza had used them to transport weapons and fighters, in contravention of laws governing armed conflict.

Last week a helicopter attacked an ambulance that had just pulled up outside a house in the village of Aitaroun, next door to where a Sydney family had been holidaying.

The ambulance just blew up and both the driver and his co-worker were killed, said witness Hassane Assef, of Sydney, who was holidaying in the area, and who tried to help the victims of both strikes.

The UN yesterday stopped short of accusing Hezbollah of using ambulances as transport vehicles. However, it suggested that the cowardly tactic of blending in with civilians had contributed to the terrible toll taken on communities in the south, where most of the 391 Lebanese have been killed.

"Consistently, from the Hezbollah heartland, my message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending ... among women and children," UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland said.

"I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men."

**I note that no proof is offered for that statement?**

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