Red Cross, U.N. Concerned Over Mideast

The international Red Cross and the U.N. children's and health agencies said Wednesday they were seriously concerned about civilian casualties and new health risks because of escalating violence in Lebanon and Israel.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reminded both parties to the conflict of their obligation to distinguish between civilians and military personnel and targets.

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"The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of damage to essential public infrastructure raise serious questions," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the ICRC.

Under international law, the Israeli air and sea blockade of Lebanon must not prevent foodstuffs and other essential supplies from reaching the civilian population, Kraehenbuehl said.

The Geneva-based humanitarian agency is asking for an initial $8 million to help displaced and vulnerable people, as well as supporting medical services of the Lebanese Red Cross.

"We have reminded the Israeli authorities of their obligation under international humanitarian law to respect and protect medical personnel and their means of transport. We now expect improved access and security for medical teams," Kraehenbuehl said.

"The first priority today is to ensure that the wounded and sick can be evacuated — that medical teams obtain access to the victims and can work safely."

UNICEF and the World Health Organization said in a statement that there was a serious psychological effect from the fighting.

"Civilian deaths include dozens of children, with many more injured," the joint statement said. "The psychological impact is serious as people, including children, have witnessed the death or injury of loved ones and destruction of their homes and communities."

Movement of medical supplies and ambulances to affected areas is seriously limited, the statement added.

The agencies are working with Lebanon's Ministry of Health to provide emergency medicines and supplies for acute and chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as chlorine tablets to ensure safe drinking water and prevent waterborne diseases.

The agencies' requirements will be included in a larger United Nations appeal to be released next week, including funding for providing clean water, emergency health kits and restoring public health services like immunization and disease surveillance.

Germany said Wednesday it would contribute $1.25 million to support emergency humanitarian aid in southern Lebanon.

The money will be used to supply food and medical help, and help with water supplies, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said.