The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the Gaza Strip and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded.
Relief workers said they found four starving children sitting next to their dead mothers and other corpses in a house in a part of Gaza City bombed by Israeli forces, the Red Cross said on Thursday.
“This is a shocking incident,” said Pierre Wettach, ICRC chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded,” Wettach said.
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The agency said it believed Israel had breached international humanitarian law in the incident.
An Israeli offensive launched in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 to end rocket attacks by Islamic militants has drawn increasing international criticism over mounting civilian casualties.
Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances and ICRC officials managed to reach several houses in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City on Wednesday after seeking access from Israeli military forces since last weekend, the ICRC statement said.
The rescue team “found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses,” the ICRC said.
“They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses,” it said.
In another house, the team found 15 survivors of Israeli shelling including several wounded, it said.
Three corpses were found in another home. Israeli soldiers posted some 80 meters (yards) away ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do, it said.
The ICRC said it had been informed that there were more wounded sheltering in other destroyed houses in the area.
“The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuated the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable,” it said.
Last update – 16:08 08/01/2009