Aid groups alarmed at Jenin access curbs, scale of Israeli attack

Road blocks and bulldozers ploughing streets and buildings are preventing life-saving medical access from reaching victims of all ages in the camp.

Smoke rises as ambulances drive during an Israeli military operation in Jenin
Ambulances have been prevented from reaching patients with severe injuries in Jenin [Raneen Sawafta/Reuters]

Aid agencies have expressed serious concern at the scale of the continuing Israeli attack in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin and the restrictions placed on medical access for seriously wounded people.

“We are alarmed at the scale of air and ground operations that are taking place in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, and air strikes hitting a densely populated refugee camp,” Vanessa Huguenin, a spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office, told a briefing on Tuesday.

She said three minors were among the victims. At least 10 Palestinians have been killed and dozens more wounded since early on Monday, when hundreds of soldiers, backed by air raids, stormed the camp in Israel’s largest offensive on Jenin in more than 20 years.

World Health Organization spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said “first responders have been prevented from entering the [Jenin] refugee camp, including to reach persons who have been critically injured” due to restrictions put in place by Israeli forces.

The camp is home to more than 20,000 Palestinians who are descendants of people dispossessed of their land and homes when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Jovana Arsenijevic, operations coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) in Jenin, told Al Jazeera her team’s access on Monday had been limited due to bulldozers destroying roads leading to the camp, making it nearly impossible for ambulances to reach patients.

Patients reached on foot by MSF staff had been seriously wounded by live ammunition and shrapnel, Arsenijevic said.

“Today, most of the injuries were minor, mainly due to tear gas intoxication, however, the situation seems to be escalating again,” she said on Tuesday.

Israel has claimed to be conducting targeted attacks against fighters in Jenin, which has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance, however, MSF said it was treating patients of all ages.

“In the last six months, we have seen violence of unprecedented scale and we have been supporting the emergency department in Jenin,” Arsenijevic added.

On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers also launched dozens of tear gas canisters at the entrance of the Jenin Governmental Hospital, where families who had fled the camp had gathered.

Mai al-Kaila, the Palestinian health minister, told Al Jazeera the humanitarian situation in Jenin was dire.

“Israel’s aggression against Palestinians in Jenin is made through the destruction of many infrastructures – the water and electricity network is damaged, especially inside the refugee camp,” al-Kaila said.

“Hospitals are crowded with injured and some healthcare staff are not able to reach the hospital where they should work,” she said.

Israel said the objective of its operation was to uproot Iranian-backed Palestinian factions behind a surge in gun and bomb attacks, as well as preliminary efforts to make rockets.

A spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the operation “a new war crime against our defenceless people”.

The raids have drawn condemnation from Iran, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab League, among others, and concern from the United Nations.

Lynn Hastings, the UN resident humanitarian coordinator in Palestine, on Monday expressed deep concern at the air raids targeting the camp and said that “access to all injured must be ensured”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies