Red Cross Takes Issue With Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) – Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are “a war
crime,” the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the area
said Thursday, triggering a harsh Israeli response.

The remarks were the latest chapter in the ongoing friction between Israel and
the international agency. The Israeli Foreign Ministry called the comments

At a news conference, Rene Kosirnik, who heads the Red Cross delegation to
Israel and the Palestinian areas, said the settlements violate the fourth
Geneva Convention, the treaty intended to protect civilians in areas of

“The installation of a population of the occupying power in occupied territory
is considered an illegal move, it is a grave breach (of law),” said Kosirnik.
“In principle it is a war crime.”

About 200,000 Israelis live in 144 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza,
established in territory Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel defends the settlement policy, maintaining that the West Bank and Gaza
Strip (news – web sites) are disputed territory, not occupied land, and
therefore the Geneva Convention does not apply.

It also says that the Oslo interim peace accords of 1993 call for Israel and
the Palestinians to determine the fate of the settlements in peace negotiations.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari said the government was
dismayed by Kosirnik’s comments.

“It is quite inappropriate for the ICRC to prejudice the outcome of such
negotiations by offering such loaded statements,” Ben-Ari said. “By taking a
public position on these issues, the ICRC compromises its ability to
effectively work with the sides to serve its humanitarian mission.”

The Red Cross traditionally maintains a policy of neutrality and does not
normally speak out on sensitive political issues. Kosirnik said the
organization’s opposition was based on international law, not politics.

“The International Red Cross is not a prosecutor and not a judge, but we are
certainly advocates in lobbying for respect of human standards and humanitarian
law,” he said.

European Union (news – web sites) officials have also said settlements are
illegal under international law. The United States has declared the settlements
“obstacles to peace,” but maintains that the two sides must deal with the
issue in negotiations.

Kosirnik’s comments followed a strained meeting last month between Red Cross
officials and Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

Responding to charges that Israel was violating Palestinian human rights, Ben-
Eliezer angrily produced a picture of an Israeli baby killed by a Palestinian

At the same meeting, Ben-Eliezer criticized the Red Cross for failing to
establish contact with four Israelis, including three soldiers, held hostage in

Another sore spot has been Israel’s exclusion from full membership of the Red
Cross movement, partly because the Red Cross refuses to recognize the emblem of the Israeli emergency service, a red Star of David.


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