Lebanon + 1 more

Lebanon: Aid agencies pledge continued efforts despite deaths of Red Cross workers

BEIRUT, 12 June 2007 (IRIN) - Aid agencies pledged to continue efforts to deliver relief and evacuate the injured from the besieged Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon despite an upsurge in fighting.

The deadly 24-day-old conflict between the army and Islamist militants saw two volunteer Red Cross workers killed on 11 June.

"Nothing is going to change. Yesterday [11 June] we continued our work as usual," Ghaleb Ayoubi, head of the communications department at the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) told IRIN. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also pledged to continue working with its partners to deliver relief to the besieged camp.

Ayoubi said the shooting that killed the two LRC volunteers as they waited to ferry injured camp residents from the LRC first aid post in Burj el-Arab, around 2km from the north entrance to the camp, had not deliberately targeted the medical workers.

As well as bombarding the camp with artillery and tank fire, the army has been advancing slowly through the outskirts of the camp from its northern edge, and it appears the rocket fired from inside the camp was aimed at soldiers.

Ayoubi said he believed the two LRC volunteers, 25-year-old Boulos Mimary and 26-year-old Haitham Sleiman, died from wounds sustained by shrapnel from a rocket which struck close to the LRC aid post.

Joint statement

The LRC, the Palestine Red Crescent (PRC) and the ICRC issued a joint statement deploring the deaths of the two medical volunteers and stressing the importance of respecting medical and relief teams working in the field in support of the victims of the current hostilities.

"The Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement emphasises that medical personnel, vehicles and facilities should not be subjected to attack. Medical personnel and humanitarian workers must be allowed to carry out their tasks and must, especially, have unimpeded access to the wounded," said the statement.

Boulos Mimary joined the LRC as a volunteer in 2000 and was head of an LRC first aid centre at Halba, close to the border with Syria, while Haitham Sleiman, who also worked at Halba, joined the LRC as a volunteer in 2003.

Four soldiers killed

Four Lebanese soldiers were also killed in fierce fighting on 11 June that continued into 12 June, while a Palestinian religious leader trying to mediate an end to the conflict was shot in the leg by a sniper as he tried to enter the camp to hold talks with the militants.

At least 136 people have been killed, including 60 soldiers, in three weeks of fighting, the worst internal violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Eleven soldiers died and more than 100 were wounded in battles at the weekend alone. At least 42 militants and 33 civilians have been killed.

Rescue workers have been unable to give an accurate death toll because access to the sprawling warren of alleyways that make up Nahr al-Bared is severely limited both because of security and because the narrow alleyways of the sea-side camp mean only small, single ambulances can drive through.

The PRC, which is the only emergency service operating inside Nahr al-Bared to deliver aid and evacuate civilians, on 11 June evacuated 77 vulnerable civilians, two of them wounded and two of them dead, according to figures from its partner organisation, the ICRC.

Since 10 June some 344 civilians have been evacuated from Nahr al-Bared, once home to up to 40,000 people, but whose residents now number between 3,000 to 7,000 people, according to estimates from humanitarian organisations.

The ICRC has been unable to deliver aid through the PRC into the camp since 10 June, when it delivered 600 litres of bottled water. Heavy artillery bombardment from army positions closing in on the south entrance to the camp has for the time being closed what was formerly the main conduit for agencies delivering relief into Nahr al-Bared.