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Soldier claims IDF smuggled troops in ambulances

Soldier claims IDF smuggled troops in ambulances

[This is one of those occasions where it pays to read the original in Hebrew. It is not only Haaretz that occasionally softens a story for international consumption. The Hebrew Ma'ariv actually gives the name of the soldiers' web site where his story was published. It is of course not a refuseniks' site as it is devoted to stories of serving troops. [Having checked that one I can confirm that virtually the entire story is reproduced in the Hebrew Ma'ariv.]

Shapira told the Hebrew NRG Ma'ariv: "I approached my commanders and expressed my amazement. But they explained to me that these were the most protected vehicles to transport fighters. 'This is war' they explained, in other words they told me to stop being a pest."

Shapira complained about the "moral hypocrisy" in the use of ambulances to transport fighters. "It's clear to me that that use of ambulances to transport fighters violates international conventions. It's also clear to me that such actions do not occur spontaneously but with the approval of at least the brigade commander. This reflects on the IDF's moral standard. We cannot on one hand instruct our troops to open Palestinian ambulances to check for explosive belts being transported by terrorists and on the other hand use ambulances to ferry our own troops."

MK Zahava Gal-on [Chairperson of the Yachad-Meretz Knesset Faction] has formally questioned the Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, demanding to know if the IDF does make use of ambulances for miliary purposes. According to Gal-on if the story is correct than the IDF and the government of Israel are guilty of appalling hypocrisy in accusing the Palestinians of the use of ambulances but adopting the same improper practices themselves.

The IDF spokesperson's office responded. "The IDF is particular in the use of military ambulances for medical purposes only and nothing else. Following a tiny number of complaints regarding occasions where use was made of ambulances for non-medical purposes, procedures were clarified and coded. These were distributed to all units operation in the various fronts."

The last comment is a veiled allusion to the arrest of Palestinian Assembly member and Tanzim commander Marwan Barghouti. There members of the elite unit Dukhifat approached his house in military ambulances. The matter was raised by Haaretz which reported the matter several times with the IDF spokesperson but no explanation was ever given. It is also noteworthy that the specific charge here was not denied by the IDF spokesperson.

This is an appropriate occasion to forward UNRWA's response to the charges of its ambulances being used by Palestinians against Israel. SS]

[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is generously sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

Soldier claims IDF smuggled troops in ambulances

Zohar Shapira, a service refusenik who participated in operation 'Defensive Shield', says army uses same tactic as Palestinians. Amir Buhbut

"The IDF used ambulances to smuggle in fighters during operation 'Defensive Shield' in 2002", claims Zohar Shapira, one of the initiators of the elite 'Sayeret Matkal' unit refuseniks' letter.

Yesterday, Shapira published an on-line article in which he claims that IDF soldiers used ambulances for non-medical purposes during the operation.

In his article, Shapira related an operation he took part in together with other elite troops in a village between Nablus and Jenin about two years ago. "I was surprised to discover that the elite forces belonging to the other unit taking part in the operation moved up to the houses hidden inside at least three clearly marked IDF ambulances", wrote Shapira.

Shapira said that following the operation he turned to his commanders and expressed his amazement over what he saw, but they explained it was the most secure vehicle to transport troops in.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UNRWA Press Release 25 May 2004 UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East-Headquarters Gaza website: Press Release No. HQ/G/15/2004 25 May, 2004

UNRWA Demands Apology and Retraction for

"Baseless Charges" Against UNRWA Ambulance Drivers

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has today demanded an apology and retraction from the Israeli Government and Military for the damaging and baseless allegations they have made against UNRWA's ambulance drivers in the Gaza Strip.

On 14 May 2004, Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli Minister of Defence alleged that a UN ambulance had transported body parts of Israeli soldiers. In a letter dated 16 May (but only faxed to UNRWA on 24 May), Major General Yossef Mishlev, Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), claimed that a video tape showed Palestinian use on 11 May " .of ambulances belonging to UNRWA, apparently for the purpose of transporting body parts .."

In letters to the Israeli Minister of Defence and to General Mishlev, Mr Hansen states that despite repeated requests from UNRWA, no evidence of UNRWA ambulance drivers transporting the body parts of Israeli soldiers has been presented by the Government of Israel. Accordingly, he has no reason to believe that there is any truth at all to the extremely unfortunate accusation being made against UNRWA.

Major General Mishlev's letter also claimed that UNRWA had been "concealing" the video tape of an UNRWA ambulance in Zeitun in Gaza City from 11 May. In fact UNRWA only received a copy of the video tape footage on 24 May, after having receiving General Mishlev's letter.

Moreover, the video tape shows absolutely no evidence of the transportation of soldiers' body parts and in no way undermines the statement issued by UNRWA on 13 May requesting that the neutrality of its ambulance be respected. The statement was released in response to an incident in which an ambulance driver's life was threatened by armed men who demanded that he transport them, along with their wounded comrade, to hospital. UNRWA forbids the transportation of armed fighters in its vehicles, but does not demand that its unarmed staff put their lives at risk.

Mr Hansen writes in his letter to General Mishlev: "You have urged me "to do all that can be done to publicize the truth regarding this sad episode". I cannot help but note that UNRWA made a public announcement of the truth of the matter in its press release of 13 May 2004, before various Israeli authorities began making their false allegations. UNRWA's press release did not contain a discussion of UNRWA ambulances transporting body parts of Israeli soldiers because there was no evidence that such an event had occurred. In contrast, by making the baseless charge regarding body parts, your letter and the reported comments of the Minister of Defence have shown no such concern for evidentiary support. I urge you, the Minister of Defence and all others who have repeated this unsupported canard regarding body parts, to issue an immediate retraction and apology for making such a wholly unsupported accusation."

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