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Red Cross Concerned About Civilians in Lebanon

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is very concerned about the civilian population in Lebanon, which is bearing the brunt of the armed conflict. The Red Cross says it is scaling up its humanitarian operations in keeping with the needs of this growing crisis.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is extremely concerned about the consequences the military action is having on the civilian population.

The Head of ICRC Operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, says he is struck by the speed with which the crisis in Lebanon is developing. One week after the start of fighting, he says hundreds of people have been killed or wounded, tens of thousands have fled their homes and there has been widespread destruction of public infrastructure.

"The civilian population is bearing an extremely heavy burden and consequences of the military action that is under way," he said. "The high number of civilian casualties and the extensive damage to essential public infrastructure does raise, in our view, serious questions regarding the respect of the principle of proportionality in the conduct of hostilities."

The Red Cross estimates 230 people have been killed and more than 600 wounded in Lebanon. It says 13 civilians have been killed and more than 150 wounded in northern Israel as a result of rocket attacks by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Kraehenbuel says Red Cross delegates have told both parties to the conflict that under international humanitarian law they must not target civilians or civilian infrastructure.

The ICRC is asking donor countries for an initial $8 million to meet emergency needs in Lebanon during the coming month. The agency says it is expanding its current team of six expatriates to more than 20 and is recruiting more local staff.

It is coordinating its activities with the Lebanese Red Cross, which has 2400 volunteers, 42 ambulance stations and more than 50 clinics and other medical facilities in the country.

Kraehenbuel says the first priority is to ensure the wounded and sick can be evacuated and medical teams obtain access to the victims and can work safely. He says the Red Cross has received assurances of improved access and security from Israel.

He says the Red Cross also has received assurances that the current sea and air blockade imposed by Israel on Lebanon will not harm the civilian population. He notes the blockade is not prohibited under international humanitarian law. It is how it is applied that might constitute a violation.

"The blockade in whatever form should in no way prevent foodstuffs and other essential items, medical supplies from entering," he said. "For the moment, we have every indication that the way in which we want to operate to provide, with bringing in supplies for the relief of the population and the support of medical infrastructure is something that will be respected."

The first emergency food and other supplies from the ICRC reached Lebanon on Tuesday. Kraehenbuehl says another convoy of goods will arrive on Friday.