Human Rights Watch today called on the Israeli government to instruct soldiers to immediately refrain from attacking medical personnel in the West Bank and Gaza. During the past week, at least three ambulances have been fired upon, three ambulance staff have died, and nine other medical personnel have been injured.
Human Rights Watch called on the Israeli government to respect international humanitarian law, which stipulates that respect for the safety of medical personnel and ambulances is a basic duty of all forces and individuals involved in fighting. Human Rights Watch called for investigations into all incidents of firing on emergency medical personnel.
"Attacking humanitarian personnel and their vehicles is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law," said Joe Stork, Washington Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "Israel should take immediate steps to prevent any recurrence of these attacks."
Human Rights Watch said that deliberate attacks on medical personnel, vehicles and infrastructure constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.
On March 4, the head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Service (PRCS) emergency medical service in Jenin, Dr. Khalil Sulieman, was killed and another five PRCS staff injured when Israeli troops shot at their ambulances in Jenin refugee camp. Initial explanations from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) indicated that the ambulance was fired on when it was observed to be speeding towards a group of Israeli soldiers. Medical personnel in the area have said that, contrary to these claims, Dr. Sulieman was killed after an IDF soldier fired a projectile at his ambulance as it drove slowly down a narrow street. Oxygen containers in the ambulance then blew up as a result of either direct impact or heat, causing a secondary explosion.
Ibrahim Assad, a PRCS driver, and Kamal Salem, of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) were killed by Israeli fire on March 7 while en route to provide emergency assistance to wounded in the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Medical personnel have informed Human Rights Watch that Ibrahim Assad had received permission to move forward from the Israeli authorities. He drove some 750 meters, and was shot in the hand from the machine gun of an Israeli tank. He exited the ambulance, and was then shot in the head.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and PRCS have publicly stated that all ambulances were clearly marked and were coordinating their movements closely with the Israeli authorities.
"Israel should investigate these deaths in a credible and transparent manner, and discipline or bring to justice those found responsible for any wrongdoing," Stork said.
Human Rights Watch expressed further concern that ambulances had reportedly been prevented from gaining access to injured in Tulkarem refugee camp.
"Purposely hindering medical access also constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law," said Stork.