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(photo credit: Judy Siegel Itzkovitch)
International Committee of the Red Cross President Dr. Jakob Kellenberger devoted the vast majority of a Jerusalem press conference Thursday to Lebanese civilian suffering and little to that of Israelis under attack by Hizbullah.
At the press conference, held at the American Colony Hotel in eastern Jerusalem and attended almost entirely by foreign correspondents, the Swiss national spoke extensively and with emotion about the deaths, injuries and lack of food and water among the Lebanese population, but did not mention the fact that the war was started on July 12 by the Iranian-trained Hizbullah militia, which killed eight soldiers in a cross-border attack, abducted two others and rained rockets on northern Israel.
When The Jerusalem Post noted the disproportionate amount of time Kellenberger devoted to the humanitarian crisis in southern Lebanon - compared to his glossing over Israeli casualties and suffering - the ICRC president was taken aback and stuttered with barely concealed anger that he had visited Israeli bomb shelters and that, "wherever I go, what hurts is to see again and again that civilians pay the price of war."
He added, however, that "over 1,000 civilians have died in southern Lebanon," hinting that it was a significantly larger toll compared to the 40 civilians plus more than 80 Israeli soldiers who have died.
When asked several times about the whereabouts and condition of the Israeli soldier abducted on Israeli territory and held by Hamas in Gaza and the two captured on Israeli territory by Hizbullah and taken to Lebanon, Kellenberger reiterated that the ICRC had asked these two organizations many times to respect the soldiers' humanitarian rights, to allow them to communicate with their families and to enable ICRC representatives to see them.
So far, he said, the ICRC had not been successful, but "we will keep trying."
"We see such situations in all parts of the world," he said.
Having met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Kellenberger said the main message to them was that "we need humanitarian space to do our work in Lebanon."
"I have a feeling that the message was understood," he said. "Prime Minister Olmert clearly promised that he would do everything he could to facilitate our work, the work we are entitled to do... We got a green light to bring a ship to Tyre, but this is being postponed for technical reasons."
The Israeli government has agreed to allow the ICRC to resume its humanitarian visits to the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sunday. The ICRC chief added that both the Lebanese Red Cross and Magen David Adom "have difficult work to do."
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