Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, have repeatedly come under fire from Israeli forces in the Gaza conflict while carrying out their duties.
At least seven of them have been killed and more than 20 injured while transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead.
On 4 January 2009, an ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after a missile strike in Beit Lahiya that apparently targeted five unarmed young men. It was hit a few minutes later by a tank shell filled with flechettes (tiny metal darts packed 5-8,000 to a shell, which should never be used in civilian areas). Two paramedics were seriously wounded in the incident. One of them, Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, later died. Amnesty International researchers later found that the wall beside where the ambulance had been was pierced by hundreds of darts.
On 4 January, three paramedics – Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir, and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al – were killed in Gaza City as they walked through a small field on their way to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard. A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was standing near his home indicating to the paramedics the place where the wounded were, was also killed in the same strike.
The remains of the missile that killed the three paramedics and the child read “guided missile, surface attack”, with the USA mentioned as the weapon’s country of provenance. The bodies of the four killed in the missile strike could not be removed for two days as the ambulance crews who tried to approach the site again came under fire from Israeli forces.
On 12 January, several ambulances arrived rapidly after a six-storey apartment building had been hit by two missiles. Local residents were already trying to evacuate bodies of wounded and dead from the upper floors.
Dr Issa Abdel Rahim Saleh and a paramedic, Ahmad Abdel Bari Abu Foul, were the first emergency medical workers at the scene and started evacuating the wounded. As they climbed down the stairs between the sixth and fifth floor, an Israeli tank shell came through a window, slicing through the head and body of Dr Saleh.
Several ambulances were in the street below and the paramedics were plainly visible by their phosphorescent jackets, yet this did not prevent the tank crews from firing.
Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat. These provisions of international law have not been respected during the conflict in the Gaza Strip.