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Israeli strikes on health workers in southern Lebanon 'extremely alarming' says Human Rights Watch

Israel has repeatedly targeted hospitals, health centers, and paramedics throughout the war, killing 20 medics, many of whom belonged to health associations affiliated with Hezbollah and other political groups. 

Israeli strikes on health workers in southern Lebanon 'extremely alarming' says Human Rights Watch

A damaged ambulance remains at the site of an Israeli airstrike a day earlier in the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh near the border with Israel on March 5, 2024. (Credit: Hassan Fneich/AFP)

BEIRUT — Human Rights Watch told L'Orient Today it is "extremely alarmed" about the "large number" of health workers killed by Israeli strikes since October 2023 in southern Lebanon.

According to a count by L'Orient Today, there have been at least 14 Israeli strikes on medical workers, ambulances or medical facilities since fighting began between Hezbollah and the Israeli army on Oct.8. This number includes three separate strikes over the past few months which targeted the Mais al-Jabal Governmental Hospital.

A total of 20 medics have died, including ambulance drivers, paramedics from the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Committee, medics from the Amal-affiliated al-Rissala Scouts, and volunteers from a Hezbollah-linked health center. 

Most recently, on Monday, an Israeli attack on an Islamic Health Committee ambulance in Naqoura killed the driver, Haidar Mahmoud Juheir, and injured another person. Israel, which has repeatedly claimed to be striking "military targets," has faced numerous criticisms for failing to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths in southern Lebanon. 

Illustration of deadly Israeli strikes on medics in southern Lebanon since Oct.8 2023. (Illustration by Jaimee Lee Haddad/L'Orient Today)

Strike on medical center: potential ‘war crime’?

The deadliest attack occurred on March 27 when Israel attacked a health center in Hibbarieh, killing seven paramedics, all under the age of 25.

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) qualified this strike as an "unlawful attack on civilians" and that it could be "investigated as an apparent war crime."

According to the HRW, the attack was carried out with a US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance kit and an Israeli-made 500-pound general-purpose bomb. The late-night attack targeted the Emergency and Relief Corps of the Lebanese Succour Association, a non-governmental humanitarian organization. 

A damaged ambulance belonging to the Amal-affiliated al-Rissala Scouts, struck by an Israeli drone in Blida, southern Lebanon, Jan. 31, 2024. (Credit: Sent to L’Orient Today correspondent in the south, Muntasser Abdallah, by residents of Blida).

Following the strike, the Israeli army claimed its fighter jets had "struck a military compound," killing a Jamaa al-Islamiyya member. The group later denied those claims.

"Israel claimed it was targeting ‘terrorists’. We found that those killed were young volunteers working in a village where aid facilities were desperately needed," Ramzi Kaiss from Human Rights Watch told L'Orient Today. The organization found no evidence of a military target at the site.

According to a report by Al-Jazeera, the Emergency and Relief Corps have suspended operations in Hibbarieh as they are concerned their operations could "attract attacks on civilians in other neighborhoods." 

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Israeli strike on medical center kills seven first-aid volunteers in south Lebanon: What we know

The laws on protecting medical workers

Under International Humanitarian Law, medical personnel carrying out medical duties "must be respected and protected in all circumstances."

"Medical facilities and personnel are civilian objects with special protections under the laws of war," explained Ramzi Kaiss from Human Rights Watch.

“International law prohibits attacks that target civilians and civilian objects, that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, or that are expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects that are disproportionate to any anticipated military advantage," Kaiss added.

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'The least we can do': Protest at Health Ministry in solidarity with hospitals targeted by Israel

"They only lose their protection from attack if they are being used to commit 'acts harmful to the enemy,' and after a required warning," he noted.

Additionally, under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally directing attacks" against medical personnel constitutes a "war crime" in international armed conflicts.

The Director of the Medical Healthcare Directorate at the Public Health Ministry, Joseph Helou, previously told L'Orient Today that "the targeting of medical hospitals or medical staff is a red line." Despite the risks, hospitals near the Lebanese-Israeli border are still working, Helou said, and "have not closed one day" since the start of the fighting.

On Monday more than 100 people protested in front of the Public Health Ministry in Beirut in solidarity with hospitals and medical staff in southern Lebanon. 

Rescuers from Hezbollah's Islamic Health Committee in front of a building hit by an Israeli bombing in Nabatiyeh, which killed several people, including a family, on February 15, 2024. (Photo Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Strikes on health workers and paramedics

In a country plagued by an economic crisis, private non-governmental organizations and clinics are often those who will provide for healthcare needs. In southern Lebanon, despite the presence of the National Civil Defense, the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Committee and the Amal Movement's al-Rissala Scouts serve as the primary emergency services. This allows both parties to control the area and provide humanitarian assistance to their partisan base.

Of the 4,000 people working for the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Committee, about 56 teams and 155 vehicles (including ambulances and fire trucks) have been mobilized since October, according to Hezbollah figures provided to L'Orient Today.

Meanwhile, the Rissala Scouts "civil defense" team has conducted "50% of the rescue operations since the beginning of the war," according to Mohammad Arandas, the communication manager of the Risala Scouts.

On Nov. 5, 2023, al-Rissala Scouts said four of its members were injured in an Israeli drone strike in Tayr Harfa (Sour) while transporting two people who had been wounded in an Israeli strike on a residential home. On Feb. 22, Islamic Health Committee paramedics, Hussein Mohammad Khalil and Mohammad Yacoub Ismail, were killed in a direct attack on a civil defense center in Blida. 

Israeli shell lands in courtyard of Mais al-Jabal Governmental Hospital, 10 November 2023 (Credit: National News Agency)

Strikes on hospitals

On Nov. 10, 2023, the Israeli army shelled the Mais al-Jabal Governmental Hospital for the first time, damaging it and injuring a doctor. The Public Health Ministry described the attack as a “flagrant defiance of all the international laws and treaties" which could have had "catastrophic results."

Last week, an Israeli airstrike targeted the entrance of the Salah Ghandour hospital in Bint Jbeil, killing two civilians.

Alongside the loss of medical workers, nearly 70 civilians and at least three journalists have been killed by Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon since Oct. 8, according to L'Orient Today's count. The Council for the South estimates that 1,700 buildings have been destroyed and 14,000 others damaged, leaving many of the 90,000 people displaced with no homes to return to. Additionally, there has been significant environmental damage caused by fires ignited by white phosphorus bombs dropped by the Israeli army.

BEIRUT — Human Rights Watch told L'Orient Today it is "extremely alarmed" about the "large number" of health workers killed by Israeli strikes since October 2023 in southern Lebanon.According to a count by L'Orient Today, there have been at least 14 Israeli strikes on medical workers, ambulances or medical facilities since fighting began between Hezbollah and the Israeli army on Oct.8. This...