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Interview With Jessica Barry of Red Cross

Aired April 14, 2002 - 09:34   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to pick up on that Israeli Supreme Court decision to allow the Israelis to go into the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin on the West Bank to begin burying the bodies of those Palestinians killed in fierce fighting with Israeli's over the past several days. Joining us now is Jessica Barry. She is representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross based here in the Middle East. Jessica thanks so much for joining us.

We heard that the Israelis are now saying that they're not going to take those bodies without the participation of the Red Cross. Is that what you're hearing as well?

JESSICA BARRY, REPRESENTATIVE, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS: What is very important to say is that until now we've been denied access into the camp both for the International Committees the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, who go in with the ambulances to evacuate the wounded and to pick up the dead.

What is crucial is we can be allowed to go in so that we can see what is needed to be done there on a humanitarian level, whether it would be to bury the dead, which must be done in a dignified way so that the families -- the families of the dead are allowed to mourn and to have the bodies of their loved ones, that's the first thing. Also to evacuate whoever may be wounded to the hospitals. Nobody -- nobody has been brought out until now.

And thirdly, for the civilian population that is still in there, to have assistance from U.N. agencies that are ready to go, as we are, for the medical evacuations and to see what the situation is inside the camp. We absolutely have to get access and we've been waiting without permission to go in for six days.

BLITZER: And so are -- do you get the sense now that you're about to get -- receive that permission?

BARRY: We have been told all along that we will be given the green light. We are on the outside of the camp. We've been a permanent presence there. And we will ask to have permission to go in and it's never been given. So hopefully it will come now. It has to come as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Jessica, stand by. I just want to report some news that we're getting now. We do have confirmation here at CNN that Secretary of State Colin Powell will -- will fly tomorrow, Monday, to Beirut for talks with top Lebanese officials amid mounting U.S. concern of tensions along the Israeli border with Lebanon. Border disputes involving a tiny little area called Shebaa Farms in the southern part, along the border, southern part of Lebanon with Israel. Lebanon claims that territory belongs to Lebanon. The Israelis say it belongs to Syria. The United Nations sides with Israel and Syria right now saying that territory is part of Syria but there has been Hezbollah artillery mortars going into that area over these past several days. Syrian-backed, Iranian- backed Hezbollah guerrillas launching mortars into that area against Israeli troops. Israel has been responding.

Massive concern among U.S. officials. We heard it earlier from the number two official at the State Department, Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, saying that the U.S. is deeply concerned about an escalation that's why there is this decision now for the Secretary of State to go Monday, tomorrow, to Beirut to begin meeting with top Lebanese officials.

I want to go back to Jessica Barry now of the Red Cross, the International Committee for the Red Cross. What else do you want the Israeli government to do and the Palestinian authority to do to help the Red Cross undertake the mission it's suppose to undertake?

BARRY: First of all, again, it's the access in all the areas. Also in Nablus and Bethlehem, places which are under curfew. We always coordinate our -- all our movements with the Israeli authorities. We wait for the green light from them to be able to move in. I, myself, was in Bethlehem the other day and the closed area near Manager Square where people had been living now for 10 days without the curfew being lifted.

We took in some food supplies. The people came out of their houses and they were desperate. They're desperate for food. They're desperate for some sense of security. They're desperate to be able to get back to their lives just as normally as possible again.

BLITZER: The Israelis say they're now lifting these traveler restrictions throughout almost all of the West Bank with the exception of the Church of the Nativity at Manger Square in Bethlehem, the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah and at least for now Jenin, that refugee camp that saw such fierce fighting over these past several days. So in effect that means that you, a representative of the Red Cross and your colleagues, will have generally free access to throughout the West Bank. Is that right?

BARRY: First of all, any -- it's a positive move to be able to lift the curfew but at the same time if we're not given the permissions to travel around, then we are still hampered in doing our work. This is very important to humanitarian work to be done and we have to have the security guarantees to ensure that ambulances aren't shutout, to ensure that Red Cross workers are allowed to carry out their work. The other day we had three of our delegates wearing the Red Cross (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the bibs, which they wear to identify them under the protective emblem, they were made to strip and they were made to stand aside while their cars were searched. The searching of the cars is fine. That's perfectly normal. But it is an abuse of the emblem to ask the Red Cross to stand aside and not be able to work under this protective emblem. The same thing for the Red Cross and for the Palestinian Red Cross and Society.

We welcome the lifting of the curfews of course. People have to be able to live a normal life but they have to be able to live that life in safety.

BLITZER: You know the Israeli accusation that they have evidence that within some of those ambulances of the Palestine, the Red Crescent Society, they found evidence of terrorist equipment, suicide belts, for example, hidden, being smuggled from one area to another under the cover of the Red Crescent, which of course is affiliated with the International Committee for the Red Cross. Is there any validity to that accusation as far as you know?

BARRY: Of course we take every allegation extremely seriously. There has been one case where an explosive belt was found in an ambulance. However, until an investigation is completed to know how that belt got there because it's not clear, then we are not prepared to comment anymore.

And what is important also to say is that, quite a part from that, it is against international humanitarian law to shoot and to kill ambulance workers who are going about their humanitarian work, to push ambulances out of the way with tanks, as you see on the television screens the other day, and not to ensure that those humanitarian workers that they're carrying out a humanitarian mission are allowed to go in because the bottom line is that the victims need support and that's why all the humanitarian workers are here.

BLITZER: So if there was this one suicide belt, the explosive belt that was found in one of those Red Crescent ambulances, the Israelis might say well if it was in one why not in others. Is the ICRC, International Committee for the Red Cross, investigating that incident to make sure that it doesn't happen again?

BARRY: An investigation is going on and until that investigation has been completed, we are not in position to make any further comment on it because we want to find out all the facts.

But it's important to say that the ambulance workers of the Red Crescent Society, they're not only trained in medical rescue but they're trained in the principles of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent movement, which are neutrality, independence, impartiality. They and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They're carrying out a very brave and a very courageous mission. It makes no difference whether it is happening -- picking up people in the occupied territories or here in Israel, in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Those people are doing humanitarian work and any -- any restriction of their work must absolutely be deplored. BLITZER: Jessica Barry of the ICRC, the International Committee for the Red Cross doing very important work here in the Middle East. Thanks to you. Thanks to all of your colleagues as well. Good luck.




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