The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that since Oct. 7, 2023, the Israeli authorities have suspended visits to Palestinian detainees in its prisons, while Hamas movement has not allowed visits to the Israeli hostages.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Fabrizio Carboni, Regional Director of the Red Cross for the Middle and Near East, described the situation in Gaza, about 4 months after the start of the war, as “catastrophic,” in light of the collapse of the health system and the entire power network.
Carboni stressed that the psychological impact of the war on the residents of Gaza, especially children, was one of the cruelest dimensions of this conflict, noting that the population will have to carry it for years.
He praised what he described as “distinguished cooperation” between the ICRC and Saudi Arabia, noting that the financial and political support provided by the Kingdom allowed the Red Cross to work in complex areas around the world.
The Regional Director of the ICRC emphasized that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories, and that the Palestinians who live there are protected under the Geneva Conventions, and therefore are entitled to enjoy basic rights and guarantees without discrimination.
In the interview, Carboni also spoke about the challenges facing the Red Cross teams in Gaza, the committee’s position on the case filed by South Africa against Israel before the International Court of Justice, and other files.
The cruelty of the conflict and its psychological dimensions
“The situation in Gaza, after 4 months of intense violence, siege, and limited access to humanitarian aid, is catastrophic, because people cannot receive basic services,” he said.
“Many people are injured, other than those who were killed. Furthermore, something that is difficult to capture is the psychological impact of this violence - the fear, anxiety and sadness of having to live in your own home seeing friends and family members killed and injured (...) Imagine living in constant fear of being at the wrong time or place and being harmed, injured or killed”, he added.
Carboni expressed his belief that the most devastating aspect of the psychological impact of war is people’s fear for their children.
“This is perhaps one of the cruelest dimensions of this conflict. This will have an impact on generations of Palestinian people who have lived through this catastrophic moment,” he stated.
Collapse of the health system and the entire power network
In addition to the destruction of infrastructure, the lack of security and safety prevented people from accessing hospitals, schools and protected shelters, according to the ICRC official.
Carboni spoke of severe damage to the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, and said: “It is not only the health system that is collapsing, but rather the entire energy system, the complete energy supply, and the provision of water to the people. All this was damaged. The situation is truly alarming and intolerable, and when we look at the state of the infrastructure, it is difficult to imagine how this conflict with such a level of intensity and violence can continue without taking more seriously the situation of the civilian population in Gaza. Therefore, I call on all parties to respect the population and spare them this unacceptable level of violence.”
Carboni praised the courage and resilience of health workers in Gaza, who “have been working for 4 months in a very difficult situation, doing real work and paying a heavy price for it.”
Distinguished partnership with Saudi Arabia
The Regional Director of the Red Cross in the Near and Middle East explained that the International Committee has a distinguished partnership with Saudi Arabia, noting that the King Salman Relief Center funded part of their work in Gaza, in addition to partnerships in Sudan and many other regions.
Carboni highlighted cooperation with the Kingdom to develop a common understanding of how to respond to humanitarian situations around the world.
He said: “We have had a distinguished dialogue with Saudi Arabia over the past years, and we have received very tangible political support in conflicts and humanitarian issues, which has allowed us to work in complex areas.”
He continued: “When we face difficulties in some countries, we know that we can always involve Saudi Arabia and all its representatives in Riyadh, Geneva, and New York to deal with these issues. We have an important financial partnership, but also the political partnership is more crucial from my point of view.”
“Our employees are victims of the conflict in Gaza”
Speaking about the challenges facing the Red Cross teams in Gaza, Carboni stressed that Gaza City is a large battlefield that cannot be easily covered.
“Our employees are stuck in a place they should not be due to violence, which threatens their safety and security,” he said.
The second challenge in Gaza, according to Carboni, is that employees are “victims of the conflict, displaced and exposed to bombing and lack of fuel, water and food.”
He added: “Gaza is a very difficult environment. Even if we do our best (...), it will never be enough because of the scale of the humanitarian crisis.”
In response to a question about whether the killings of civilians in Gaza constitute Israeli war crimes, the ICRC Regional Director said that the killing, injury and displacement of civilians, and all intentional and active violence that targets neutral citizens, whether in Gaza or Israel, were unacceptable.
“We expect all necessary precautions to be taken to avoid civilian casualties,” he underlined.
On South Africa’s case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding Israeli crimes in Gaza, Carboni reiterated that the ICRC was not entitled to comment on such questions.
“We focus on the violation of international law and the consequences for people, and we raise these topics in our confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict. We reiterate that the West Bank and Gaza are located within the occupied territories. Palestinians living in these areas are protected under the Geneva Conventions and are therefore entitled to enjoy basic rights and guarantees without discrimination,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Hostage exchange efforts
Regarding the latest efforts to achieve a prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel, Carboni said: “We are not part of any dialogue between the two parties to reach an agreement and allow the release of hostages and detainees. These are political negotiations in which we do not participate. We engage in the humanitarian dimension after the agreement.”
Preventing the Red Cross from visiting detainees
The ICRC regional director spoke about the committee’s long history of visiting Palestinians detained by Israel, and said: “We also facilitate family visits, and if we take the first six months of 2023, more than 29,000 visits from family members were enabled through the Red Cross.”
But he added: “Since Oct. 7, the Israeli authorities have taken a decision to suspend visits through the International Red Cross. We regret that and we continue to talk to those concerned to resume these visits. It is also regretful that Hamas did not allow us to visit its hostages, and in both cases..., this is completely unacceptable. We hope that we will be able to reach those people as soon as possible.”