War paralyses Lebanon aid

BEIRUT — Heavy fighting between Israel and Hizbollah fighters paralysed efforts to reach 100,000 people trapped in southern Lebanon on Saturday, aid workers said, despite a UN Security Council resolution to end the war.

Civilians caught up in a push by Israel deep into Lebanon were running out of food and medicine, and afraid to flee after an air strike against a mostly civilian convoy.

The United Nations’ UNHCR refugee agency said despite the UN Security Council’s unanimous approval late on Friday of a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities, fighting still continued in the hard-hit south.

“Military activity is ongoing on the ground and access remains difficult,” said UNHCR senior communications officer Astrid van Genderen Stort.

“We can only hope this will stop so we can reach the civilians who are in dire need.” The UN estimates almost a million people have fled their homes in Lebanon. At least 1,061 people in Lebanon and 124 Israelis have been killed in the war.

UN and other aid agencies have struggled to send supplies to southern Lebanon since Monday when Israel’s bombing of the last bridge over the Litani River cut off the region from the north.

The UN’s World Food Programme said Israel had denied the so-called security concurrence, or safe passage, to convoys anywhere in Lebanon on Saturday.

“We have not got concurrence [on safety] from the Israeli army on any convoys at all, north, south or anywhere in the country,” said WFP spokesman David Orr.

“Despite the political agreement, we’ve ground to a halt.”


Under fire


The UNHCR said a convoy of trucks remained stranded on the border with Syria, where it had been since Wednesday, and a ship meant to bring aid from Cyprus had also been refused clearance.

“We’re starting to run low. We need these trucks to come in,” said van Genderen Stort. “It feels like it’s getting more strict and difficult to get goods in and reach the people.” Israel stepped up its offensive on Friday, saying it would continue fighting until its Cabinet meet to review the Security Council resolution on Sunday.

It pushed 11 kilometres into southern Lebanon and attacked electricity stations in the southern ports of Sidon and Tyre, where the mayor said the city would run out of food by Sunday.

Israeli aircraft also fired on a convoy of hundreds of cars fleeing southern Lebanon on Friday, killing at least seven people and wounding 36, witnesses and medical sources said.

The Israeli army said it had acted on the mistaken suspicion that Hizbollah fighters were smuggling weapons in the vehicles and that it regretted any harm to non-combatants.

Aid group Mercy Corps said the attack had spread panic in the south among people who had to decide whether to flee or take shelter with ever dwindling supplies.

“Everyone knows what has happened to people who have tried to evacuate,” said Mercy Corps spokeswoman Cassandra Nelson.

“They fear that if their towns fall under siege and they attempt to evacuate they might get killed, so they might be safer just hunkering down.”

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