Red Cross demands that soldiers' captors allow links to families

Hizbullah has assured the International Committee of the Red Cross that they will treat the two IDF soldiers they are holding captive humanely, but they have refused to provide information on their condition or even to give their names, according to Dominique Stillheart, the head of the ICRC delegation for Israel and the occupied territories. The captive reservists have been identified as Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 25. Stillheart, a Swiss economist who has previously served in areas such as Sudan, the Balkans, Rwanda, Angola and Bosnia, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he and his staff were demanding that Hizbullah allow the soldiers to contact their families. "We are calling on those groups who are holding them to treat them humanely according to international humanitarian law. We keep reminding them to treat the captives humanely and respect their life and dignity. We are pushing to establish family links. We have asked for permission to visit the soldiers, but that has been declined, as in the past," said Stillheart. As for Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the soldier kidnapped by Hamas and taken into the Gaza Strip on June 25, he said, "No information has been provided, and this is of grave concern. We are working on cases of missing persons all over the world, and we know how hard it is for families not to know the destiny of loved ones. Because of the uncertainty, it is harder than when you know a loved one is dead." Stillheart said the ICRC was working constantly to reunite captives with their families. "We will never give up. We are still working to help the three missing Israeli soldiers from the [1982] Sultan Yakoub battle and Ron Arad. They are constantly on our mind," he said, while admitting that the ICRC's efforts had been to no avail. Outside the Middle East, Stillheart said, "we are often able to visit hostages. I remember a case in Peru when an embassy was occupied for a long time and we were allowed to see them. But in this context here, we have never been allowed to visit Israeli soldiers captured by a group." The ICRC official said that Israel fully observed international humanitarian law, allowing access to prisoners within 14 days of capture. But, he said - declining to use the word "terrorist" to characterize Hizbullah or Hamas because "that is not what the ICRC calls them" - "it is generally more difficult for us to deal with these armed groups." Asked whether Magen David Adom, which has just been granted membership in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, could play a role in contacting the kidnapped soldiers, Stillheart said, "Normally it is the job of the ICRC to do this, because in these circumstances one needs an international organization that is neutral and impartial. "A national society's role is to help the ICRC to alleviate suffering and bring assistance in disasters around the world. Visiting prisoners and facilitating release operations worldwide is the job of the ICRC." According to the press officer at the ICRC office in east Jerusalem, Bana Sayeh, no one at the Foreign Ministry has officially requested that the ICRC make contact with Hizbullah or Hamas regarding the soldiers taken captive in Gaza and Lebanon. "We did it at our own initiative, but we we keep them updated," Sayeh said.