Tuesday, 27 January: Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat.
These provisions of international law have not been respected during the recent three-week conflict in the Gaza Strip. Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, repeatedly came under fire from Israeli forces while they were carrying out their duties. At least seven were killed and more than 20 were injured while they were transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead.
In one case Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, a paramedic, was killed by flechettes, tiny metal darts packed 5-8,000 to a shell, which should never be used in civilian areas (see yesterday’s post).
On 4 January 2009, an ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after a missile strike in Beit Lahiya that apparently targeted five unarmed young men. It was hit a few minutes later by a tank shell filled with flechettes.
Two paramedics were seriously wounded in the incident. One of them, Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, later died. Examining the wall of the shop beside where the ambulance had been, we found it pierced by hundreds of these darts.
In another case, three paramedics in their mid 20s – Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir, and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al – were killed in the early afternoon of 4 January in Gaza City as they walked through a small field on their way to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard. A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was standing near his home indicating to the paramedic the place where the wounded were, was also killed in the same strike.
We went to the scene of the incident with the two ambulance drivers who had accompanied the paramedics and who had witnessed the attack. There we met the child’s distraught mother and we found the remains of the missile that killed the three paramedics and the child. The label reads “guided missile, surface attack” and the USA is mentioned as the weapon’s country of provenance.
After the four were killed in the missile strike, their bodies could not be removed for two days as the ambulances crews who tried to approach the site again came under fire from Israeli forces and could not approach.
In yet another case, on 12 January, several ambulances arrived rapidly after a six-storey apartment building had been hit by two missiles. Local residents were already trying to evacuate bodies of wounded and dead from the upper floors.
Dr Issa Abdel Rahim Saleh and a paramedic, Ahmad Abdel Bari Abu Foul, were the first emergency medical workers at the scene and started evacuating the wounded. However, as they climbed down the stairs between the sixth and fifth floor an Israeli tank shell came through a window, slicing through the head and body of Dr Saleh who was standing on the landing.
With several ambulances in the street below, and paramedics plainly visible by their phosphorescent jackets, it must have been clear to the Israeli surveillance drones hovering above the area and the tank crews a few kilometres away in the Jabal Raiss area that there were medics in the house, yet they fired nevertheless.