Israel approves Palestinian-run ambulances in Jerusalem

Last-minute Israeli approval to the operation of Palestinian ambulance teams in Arab-populated areas of eastern Jerusalem prevented a rocky conclusion to an international Red Cross and Red Crescent conference that wrapped up today in Geneva. The ambulances are staffed by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) but bear Israeli license plates and are subject to Israeli health regulation.

Delegates from national governments and relief societies adopted a consensual resolution expressing “concern” over the implementation of a ground-breaking 2005 memorandum of understanding between the PRCS and its Israeli counterpart, the Magen David Adom, which deals with Palestinian ambulances in Jerusalem and Israeli ambulances operating in the West Bank. Agreement today between Israeli and Palestinian delegates prevented a much harsher text from being introduced by Arab states, which would have sought to condemn Israel in tones similar to those common in many UN bodies.

In his speech to the plenary, the head of the Palestinian society announced it had received guarantees to operate ambulances in eastern Jerusalem, and that an hour and a half later they were operating. The PRCS called on Israel to embrace the cooperation between the two relief societies, “a genuine example of peace-building in the region.”

The Magen David Adom said that the PRCS is the first Palestinian legal entity to operate in Jerusalem with the agreement of Israel, and that it wanted to open relations with the Lebanese and the Syrian societies as well.

The Palestinian government’s representative praised the spirit of the Annapolis peace conference and thanked Israel and its national society for their efforts toward the full implementation of the 2005 cooperation agreement.

The Union of the Arab Red Crescent Societies called for “an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people,” and asked for measures similar to the Israel-Palestinian memorandum be extended to the Golan.

The head of the U.S. delegation, John B. Bellinger, welcomed the resolution and said that the U.S. was committed to results on the ground. The American Red Cross said it was impressed by the cooperation between the two societies offered their good offices for the future.

Pakistan, on behalf of the Islamic group of states, called the consensual adoption of the resolution a “historic moment,” and they appreciated Israel’s resolve to support consensus.

Israel said this was the first Red Cross conference where the Magen David Adom participated as a full member. Israel was committed to continue facilitating the arrangements and today the ambulances were in operation. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UN General Assembly vote to establish a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine, Israeli Ambassador Isaac Levanon said that they “are still waiting for that vision of the two states to become a reality.”

Egypt on behalf of the African Group urged the Israeli authorities to fully implement the 2005 memorandum. Iraq on behalf of the Arab group said that promises had been made to Syria and Lebanon on humanitarian needs.

Dr. Jakob Kellenberger of the International Committee of the Red Cross paid tribute to “the courage” of the Israeli and Palestinian societies, and said his organization would continue to push for the full implementation of the 2005 agreement.

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