01 August 2006
by Dahr Jamail
Israeli warplanes are attacking the Lebanese Red Cross repeatedly, members of the medical aid group say.
"The night of 23 July we were called to rescue a family whose home was bombed," Kassem Shaulan, a 28-year-old medic with the Lebanese Red Cross in Tyre told IPS. "Just as I finished loading the three injured people in my ambulance, it was struck by a rocket and all of us were injured."
The ambulance, now parked outside of the Red Cross headquarters in this coastal city, had a hole through the centre of the red cross painted on its roof. The inside was heavily damaged and pieces of the metal frame of the van hung limply, riddled with shrapnel holes.
The Red Cross worker had several wounds on his body, and stitches on his chin and leg. He said he could not hear very well any more.
"There was an old man on a stretcher in the ambulance who lost his leg from the bomb," Shaulan said. "And a child with us is now in coma. The third person is critically injured."
Shaulan, who has worked with the Red Cross for 13 years, is also the training manager at the headquarters. He said that minutes after his ambulance was bombed, another ambulance nearby that was collecting injured people was also bombed.
Nobody seems to feel safe anywhere any more. During the brief let-up in air strikes after Israel's disastrous strike on a shelter in Qana that killed at least 60 civilians - more than half of them children -- villagers are fleeing their homes in southern Lebanon by the tens of thousands.
The United Nations World Food Programme and other relief agencies have been working tirelessly to take advantage of the short window to ferry truckloads of aid to stranded civilians.
The brief halt also revealed more death and destruction. Members of the Lebanese Red Cross in Tyre told IPS that their rescue workers retrieved more than 30 bodies from destroyed homes, streets, cars, gardens and ditches as they began their search. They continued to receive calls about the dead and injured from villages throughout the south.
Shaulan said his headquarters had received calls from Qana pleading for rescue assistance at 5 am on the morning of the Israeli strike. The shelter was bombed at 1 am.
"Immediately after we got the call we took three ambulances and headed to Qana," he said. "But three bombs nearly hit our first ambulance, so we turned back."
They attempted to head out to Qana a second time, but again their ambulances were attacked, and they returned to base. "They were keeping us away," Shaulan said. They succeeded a third time, just before 9 am.
"You can see here that everyone the Israelis are attacking are civilians and the Red Cross," Shaulan said. "And now we are having trouble reaching villages to collect bodies because they've bombed most of the roads and bridges before they told people to leave their homes."
Mohammad Zatar, who has been working for the Lebanese Red Cross in Tyre since 1993, said he had never before seen attacks on rescue workers.
"As a Red Cross volunteer I need to be very clear that we are not political -- we rescue anyone who needs help," the 32-year-old Zatar told IPS. As a colleague unloaded bodies from bloody stretchers, Zatar said "whether they are civilian, a resistance fighter or an Israeli soldier, our policy is to help any human who needs help. But the Israelis seem to be attacking us now."
Zatar said that most of the bodies they were picking up were of women and children. "Sometimes we pick younger or middle-aged men, but that is uncommon."
Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told the Israeli Parliament Monday that Israel plans to "expand and strengthen" its attack against Hezbollah. "It's forbidden to agree to an immediate ceasefire," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there would be no ceasefire, and that Israeli forces will continue fighting from the air and sea and on the ground in Lebanon.