GENEVA, (AP) – The Red Cross accused Israel Thursday of “unacceptable” delays in letting rescue workers reach three Gaza City homes hit by shelling where they eventually found 15 dead and 18 wounded, including young children too weak to stand.
The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zaytun neighborhood for four days. Ambulances couldn’t get to the neighborhood because the Israeli army had erected large earthen barriers that blocked access.
Israeli officials said the delay was caused by fighting in the area. Since Wednesday, Israel has observed a daily three-hour halt in operations to allow humanitarian evacuations and aid deliveries throughout Gaza.
Eventually, ICRC and Palestine Red Crescent rescuers received permission to go into the shelled houses on Wednesday, four days after the houses were hit by Israeli shells.
“This is a shocking incident,” said Pierre Wettach, head of the ICRC for the region.
“The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up,” the statement said. “In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses” in one of the houses, it added.
The ICRC said the children and the wounded had to be transported to ambulances on a donkey cart.
“The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded,” the ICRC said. “Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded.”
The ICRC said it believes “in this instance, the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.”
“It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable,” the ICRC statement said.
The ICRC alleged Israel also refused requests to go to other destroyed houses in the same neighborhood of Gaza City, where they had reports of more wounded people.
Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, denied his country was failing in its humanitarian obligations.
“Once the military activity was over, then it was possible for humanitarian teams to evacuate the wounded,” he told The Associated Press.
Leshno-Yaar said Israel respects international humanitarian law and is working with aid groups to allow the wounded to be removed and in some cases transferred to hospitals in Israel.