Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"ICRC president insists on improved access to southern Lebanon," Reuters/International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - Switzerland, 10 Aug 2006.

Geneva (ICRC) - The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, today concluded a four-day visit to war-torn Lebanon and Israel during which he pressed the warring parties to spare civilian lives and infrastructure and to better respect the rules of warfare as enshrined in international humanitarian law.

[ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger, centre, after crossing the Litani river on foot on his way to visit the port city of Tyre, 08.08.06 © ICRC / Marko Kokic]

During his visit, Mr Kellenberger saw first-hand the plight of civilians in the region as he travelled by road from Beirut to Tyre in southern Lebanon and from Tyre into northern Israel.

"The distinction between civilians and civilian property, on the one hand, and military targets, on the other, is fundamental," Mr Kellenberger said.

"Once again, civilians are paying the price of conflict.

There is little consideration given to their protection – protection they are entitled to under international humanitarian law." In his discussion with the Israeli authorities, Mr Kellenberger urged that access and security for humanitarian aid and personnel be improved.

In particular, Mr Kellenberger was extremely concerned about the insufficient access for the ICRC and the Lebanese Red Cross to areas most affected by the fighting.

Since the early days of the conflict, the ICRC has been able to return to those areas only sporadically and always under incredibly difficult security conditions.

"The time for improved access is long overdue," insisted Mr Kellenberger.

"Even life-saving, emergency evacuations so desperately needed are, at best, delayed for days.

We also face enormous obstacles to bringing in aid convoys loaded with essential foodstuffs, water and medicines for trapped civilians." Mr Kellenberger underlined that "anything short of full access to these areas is insufficient.

The ICRC is determined to find a way to reach the victims of this conflict, who must be protected and assisted." Since the beginning of the conflict, the ICRC has sharply stepped up its humanitarian response.

Working around the clock, in close cooperation with the Lebanese Red Cross, the ICRC has mobilized all the means at its disposal to tackle the urgent needs of this crisis.

In southern Lebanon, however, where the greatest needs prevail, the ICRC has managed to complete only a fraction of its planned emergency operations owing to a lack of access directly linked to the conduct of hostilities.

"This is a concrete illustration of the real difficulties we face on the ground," said Mr Kellenberger.

"Even the basic, minimum, life-saving work of the Red Cross in southern Lebanon is severely curtailed." "Today, I received personal commitments from Prime Minister Olmert that everything possible will be done to facilitate access for our teams on the ground.

I note that some steps have already been taken today and I intend to closely monitor this key issue.

Improved access is essential given the desperate humanitarian situation," Mr Kellenberger concluded.

For further information, please contact: Antonella Notari, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2282 or +41 79 217 3280 Hicham Hassan, ICRC Beirut, tel: +961 1 739 297 or +961 35 42 839 Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel.

+972 35 24 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 Caspar Landolt, ICRC Jerusalem, tel.

+972 2 582 88 45 or +972 57 773 52 35 Bana Sayeh, ICRC Jerusalem, tel.

+972 2 582 88 45 or +972 57 880 91 93

See also ICRC media contacts
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