Aid fails to reach 800,000 Lebanese refugees
DESPERATELY needed medicine, food and water began to trickle into Lebanon last night, but safety fears for aid convoys saw supplies pile up instead of reaching the thousands of civilians caught up in the fierce fighting.
As Hezbollah leaders pledged to launch further attacks on central Israeli cities unless the onslaught was stopped, aid agencies sought assurances that convoys would be given safe passage.
With the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas entering its 19th day, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to the Middle East to discuss the formation of a multinational peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon. But even as she arrived, officials warned that humanitarian aid was not getting to where it was most needed.
Yesterday, a US navy catamaran arrived from Cyprus, bearing 20,000 blankets, 1,000 tarpaulins, medical kits and other goods.
An Egyptian military plane also flew in 15 tons of food and medicine and a medical team to set up a field hospital, while 40 tons of food and medicine were flown in from the United Arab Emirates. Jordan also sent a planeload of aid. But aid officials said the goods were "piling up" in Beirut. Aid groups said safety concerns were preventing all but a trickle from reaching areas of south Lebanon, where tens of thousands were reported stranded, with supplies dwindling.
Israeli airstrikes hit within hundreds of metres of the few lorry convoys that made their way south last week. Israel has promised safe passage for aid, but it is done on a convoy-by-convoy basis and often 72 hours' notice is required, slowing the process considerably.
"There is always a risk when we go [to the south]. We're never 100% sure that we won't be hit," said Red Cross spokesman Hisham Hassan.
One glimmer of hope emerged, however, as the UN World Food Programme announced it had opened an aid corridor through the country from Arida on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis continued to grow yesterday, with an estimate of more than 800,000 Lebanese having fled their homes. Thousands more children and elderly people have been left stranded.
There was no let up in the violence, with more airstrikes, rocket attacks and skirmishes. An Israeli airstrike killed a woman and six children in their house in south Lebanon.
Warplanes hit the village of Nmeiriya in the afternoon as heavy bombardment of the area continued in Israel's attempt to drive Hezbollah guerrillas back from its border. The bodies of six other people were dug out of a house in Hadatha yesterday after an airstrike on Friday.
Meanwhile, two UN peacekeepers were injured when a bombing raid hit their observation position and Israeli planes bombarded the main Beirut to Damascus highway just 1km short of the Syrian border. The Israeli military said it had struck the road to cut arms supply routes from Syria to Hezbollah guerrillas
Israeli troops also pulled out of a Hezbollah stronghold after a week of fierce fighting. Israeli commanders said its soldiers had pulled back from the town of Bint Jbail as the army had no intention of occupying the area, but Hezbollah leaders claimed the retreat as a victory.
Almost three weeks of warfare have been unable to stop Hezbollah rocket fire into northern Israel. The group yesterday signalled a further escalation by announcing it had started using more powerful rockets capable of striking targets more than 45 miles inside Israel.
Five of the rockets landed near the town of Afula, 30 miles inside the border on Friday. Israeli officials said they were newly-developed Iranian Fajr-5s and marked a significant increase in Hezbollah firepower.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Israel has not made a "single military accomplishment" and claimed it had suffered a "serious defeat" at Bint Jbeil. "The bombardment of Afula and its military base is the beginning," he said. "Many cities in the centre [of Israel] will be targeted 'beyond Haifa' if the savage aggression continues on our country, people and villages."
Hezbollah has fired more than 1,600 rockets into Israel since fighting began on July 12, forcing some 500,000 Israelis into bomb shelters. Some 51 Israelis, including at least 18 civilians, have been killed, while more than 600 people in Lebanon have died, including 200 children.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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