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UN official: Israel targets ambulances

By
JOHN ZAROCOSTAS

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 5 (UPI) -- The head of a U.N. relief agency said Friday that Israel was deliberately targeting U.N. ambulances in the West Bank and was destroying Palestinian medical facilities in the region.

In a teleconference from Jerusalem, Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, said work for his agency's staff was dangerous, adding that 185 ambulances, including 75 percent of his agency's fleet, had been hit.

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"We are talking four drivers being killed," he said. "Doctors being killed, 122 doctors and drivers injured. The number of ambulances hit are no less than 185, which strongly suggests this is not the result of stray bullets but of targeting of ambulances."

In another instance, he said, an UNWRA staff member was arrested, taken away handcuffed and blindfolded and put in a detention center on the ground for 56 hours without food for 52 hours. He did not elaborate, however.

He said UNWRA had documented more than 250 cases of ambulances being denied access to rescue. The agency was getting only minimum cooperation from the Israeli army.

"These are completely unacceptable conditions for us to work under," he said.

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Israel has said it has not denied anyone access to medical care but has conceded that the fighting has made it difficult for ambulances to reach the wounded. It has also said the ambulances sometimes get caught in the crossfire. Israel has also accused ambulances of transporting Palestinian gunmen and weapons.

Hansen also said Israel was targeting Palestinian medical installations.

"It is quite appalling to see ... how some installation in the health and medical areas have been destroyed, medicines smashed ... or threatening graffiti written in Hebrew on the walls," he said. "It's not really what one would expect from a disciplined army to see this kind of disruption."

He urged Israel to "observe at minimum a normal decency" along with the humanitarian treaties it had signed.

He criticized the Israeli army's operations in the West Bank.

"The situation is most dramatic in the cities and camps in the West Bank," he said. "The application of violence is very generalized. There's not a question here of pinpointing and targeting a few suspects on a wanted list but entry into home after home."

Over the past 24 hours, Hansen said, 18 people had been killed. Apart from that, in the past five days, 73 Palestinians had been killed and 246 wounded. There were also nine members of the Israeli Defense Forces killed and 30 wounded.

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Hansen said more than 2,500 houses in the West Bank had been destroyed.

"The situation is unprecedented," he said. "There is massive destruction of shelters and destruction of infrastructure, water lines, electricity."

He said installations used by the Israeli army had also been damaged.

He said Israeli civilians were also being badly affected.

"It's a society under siege living in fear and increasing anger," he said.

He said if diplomatic efforts to end the violence failed, "we are looking forward to worse conditions than we are living through now."

He said his letters to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had gone unanswered.

"We are not ... giving up writing, protesting, reminding them of international law and their international obligations."

What we need, Hansen stressed, "is a response from the Israelis to assist us."

In a related development, the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement Friday also protested "against the willful and unacceptable destruction" on April 3 of six Palestine Red Crescent ambulances and one ICRC landcruiser by Israeli tanks in Tulkarim and Bethlehem.

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