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Red Cross Forced to Double Aid to Palestinians - 2002-06-26

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has had to double its budget for humanitarian assistance in Palestinian areas because of the continuing violence between Israeli and Palestinians.

Rene Kosirnik, the top ICRC official in Israel and Palestinian areas, says Israeli military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip have led to the collapse of Palestinian society. Mr. Kosirnik is leaving his post as head of the Red Cross delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories after two years of service. He says the socio-economic situation in the area has worsened since the present violence erupted in late September of 2000.

"The present capacity, organizational capacity, of the Palestinian authorities has been severely disrupted," Mr. Kosirnik explained, "And in other cases, you have areas, which are temporarily, but sometimes for a long period totally cut off, such as villages, which are cut off from direct supplies. What is obvious is their capacity to deliver what any country is meant to deliver, normal public services, has been severely hindered."

The International Committee of the Red Cross has expanded its assistance program to fill some of the gaps. It says it will provide food, water, basic shelter, and household items to as many as 300,000 Palestinians in the coming months.

Mr. Kosirnik says one of the most important Red Cross activities is that of protection. "By that we mean, being an advocate, a representative of the victims towards those who have an impact on their life, making representations to the authorities," he explained, "A role of legal advocacy [and] practical activities such as visiting prisoners. That number has drastically increased."

Mr. Kosirnik says the number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel has increased from 2,700 two years ago to about 7,000 now. He says Israeli authorities allow Red Cross delegates to regularly visit the prisoners so they can monitor their treatment and conditions of detention.

He says the turmoil makes it difficult to know how many prisoners are being held by the Palestinian Authority. But he estimates they number in the hundreds.