Israel issues ultimatum to Red Cross
Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has criticized what he called the “unbalanced focus” of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), amid the IDF’s offensive in Gaza. He also blasted the Geneva-based aid group for failing to rescue Israeli hostages being held by Hamas.
“The Red Cross has no right to exist if it does not succeed in visiting the hostages being held captive by the Hamas,” Cohen said in a telephone conversation on Wednesday with ICRC director Miriana Spolijaric, according to a summary released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Israel has said that about 240 of its citizens were seized by Hamas in its October 7 cross-border raid, most of whom remain unaccounted for in the besieged Palestinian enclave, which has been targeted with massive retaliatory strikes by the IDF for several weeks.
“The Red Cross must act decisively and with a clear voice and utilize all leverage it has to push for a visit to the hostages as soon as possible,” Cohen said, according to the transcript, noting that “children, women and Holocaust survivors” are among the captives.
Cohen accused the aid organization of showing an “unbalanced focus” on Israel throughout the conflict. “The Red Cross’ reputation is at stake if it cannot secure a visit to those being held captive by Hamas,” he said.
The Red Cross defended its work on Thursday, with spokesperson Alyona Synenko telling NPR that “when the bombs continue to fall, it is also impossible for our teams to do their jobs.”
“For us it is a priority to get access and to visit all the hostages. The amount of suffering they endure is also unimaginable. We have been constantly calling on the Hamas authorities to give us access so that we can provide medicine, that we can give news to the families of the hostages.”
“We cannot do that unless we are given the needed humanitarian space and the access to be able to do our job,” Synenko said. “We cannot force our way through bombs. We just need all the parties to show goodwill and also to respect their obligation under the international humanitarian law.”
The Red Cross, which has been involved in supplying humanitarian aid to Gaza, has also cautioned Israel over civilian casualties – however, Cohen claimed that Israel “is bound by international law and acts in accordance with it.”
Palestinian officials say that more than 9,000 people have so far been killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza, and that about 70% of those killed are children, women and the elderly.