In spite of continuing hostilities, Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) and Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) volunteers and staff continue life-saving evacuations of wounded and vulnerable civilians out of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, near Tripoli in northern Lebanon. For nearly a month now, intense fighting has continued in the camp, between an armed militia group, Fatah al Islam and the Lebanese army.
The PRCS is active within the camp, evacuating the wounded and the sick, and delivering medicines, food and relief items, provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, to civilians still inside Nahr el-Bared. Once outside camp boundaries, the wounded and civilians fleeing the fighting are handed over to LRC emergency medical teams, who are responsible for either bringing them to hospital or to safer areas, such as the nearby Palestinian camp of Beddawi. Other people make their way to other Palestinian camps in Saida, Tyre and in the Bekaa region.
"People leaving the camp are exhausted after experiencing days of shelling, with little food or water and precarious shelter," explains Anne-Katherine Moore Karlsen, Federation head of Delegation in Beirut. "The evacuations are risky and take time because of the volatile security conditions. It is not possible for us to know how many wounded or dead people remain inside the camp."
Lebanese Red Cross Emergency Medical Service (EMS) teams are still on high alert - six first aid posts have been set up near the entrances of the camp, staffed by 52 first aiders, and a dozen ambulances are positioned there. Another 15 ambulances with 90 first aid workers are on stand by in the EMS Northern District stations ready to intervene immediately if the need arises.
From June 11 to 14 alone, the EMS teams evacuated 243 civilians, six wounded people and four medical emergencies. Two bodies were evacuated by Palestine Red Crescent ambulances.
Since 20 May, the Lebanese Red Cross reports it has transported more than 335 wounded (civilians and Lebanese soldiers) and 51 bodies, evacuated more than 987 civilians away from the camp's entrance, and taken 184 emergency medical cases to hospital, working in close collaboration with the Palestine Red Crescent, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"We were shocked at the deaths of two members of our emergency medical services, both volunteers in the Halba first aid centre. Boulos Meemary, 25 years old, and Haitham Sleiman, 26, were killed during shelling on 11 June near Nahr el Bared camp," says George Kettaneh, National Director of LRC Emergency Medical Services. "We mourn these two young men who paid the highest price of all in the service of humanity, but we are continuing our work to try and save as many lives as possible, with our Palestine Red Crescent colleagues."
In his letter of condolence to the President of the Lebanese Red Cross, Dr. Sami Al-Dahdah, Federation Secretary general Markku Niskala wrote:
"Last summer, we, along with the whole world, witnessed the courage and selfless dedication of Lebanese Red Cross paramedics as they evacuated civilians caught in the hostilities. They paid a high price with the death, last August, of volunteer Mikhael Jbayleh, and with the many others who were wounded. We pay tribute to all the Lebanese Red Cross volunteers working in dangerous conditions, to assist the wounded and evacuate the vulnerable. Our thoughts are with you in these distressing times."
In a joint statement issued on the day the two LRC volunteers were killed, the Lebanese Red Cross, the Palestine Red Crescent, the ICRC and the International Federation, issued a call to all parties involved in the conflict to spare civilians who are not directly participating in the hostilities, to allow medical and humanitarian workers to carry out their tasks and to have unimpeded access to the wounded.