The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided medical care to Hizbullah terrorists wounded while fighting against Israel.
"The moment a Hizbullah fighter is injured, he is considered a non-combatant, so we must take care of him," ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Geneva. "We are a neutral intermediary and the ICRC has a mandate to intervene."
Haddad confirmed that ICRC personnel in southern Lebanon, working together with members of the Lebanese Red Cross, had offered medical assistance and other unspecified forms of relief to Hizbullah members hurt on the battlefield.
The Post contacted the ICRC after a photograph appeared in Thursday's New York Times depicting Red Cross workers assisting wounded members of Hizbullah to cross a makeshift bridge over the Litani River.
Citing the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Haddad said the ICRC "can come into any situation and assist civilians and non-combatants. The same treatment is given to both sides."
Asked if the ICRC would assist wounded Hizbullah fighters even if it meant they would then be able to return immediately to the battle or continue firing rockets at Israel, Haddad replied, "There is nothing wrong with assisting the war wounded."
Pressed to clarify if the organization would also provide aid to al-Qaida members wounded in clashes with US troops in Afghanistan, she momentarily hesitated before saying, "Yes, of course. We would assist non-combatants on both sides."
Contacted by the Post, Carol Miller, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Washington, defended the ICRC's policy, insisting it was required under international law.
"The Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law protect non-combatants in armed conflict - the wounded, civilians, prisoners of war, medical personnel and humanitarian Red Cross workers," she said. "The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions and operates as a neutral intermediary in armed conflict, providing protection and humanitarian assistance to non-combatants."
According to Miller, the ICRC makes no distinction between soldiers of a sovereign state and those belonging to a terrorist group.
"The characterization by one side of the other as terrorists," she said, "does not alter the fundamental protections of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. We do not takes sides in an armed conflict; we neither condemn nor support a side. The movement provides humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in need, without regard to which side they may seem to be on or what they may be called."
The American Red Cross, Miller said, has thus far sent $500,000 to the ICRC for relief activities in Lebanon and an additional $80,000 has been raised.
She did not express any concern that the aid being provided might end up helping Hizbullah fighters. "Our neutrality is essential to our humanitarian action," she said.