Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Aid Crisis Worsens as Israel Pounds Southern Lebanon

by John Kifner

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 8 — A humanitarian crisis deepened across Lebanon on Tuesday as fighting continued to rage between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerrillas along the border, amid indications that Israel was preparing for a major escalation.

In Tyre, the besieged major city in the south, leaflets fluttered down warning that any car on the roads south of the Litani River could be hit.

“Every vehicle, whatever its nature, which travels south of the Litani will be bombed on suspicion of transporting rockets and arms for the terrorists,” said the leaflets, addressed to the people of Lebanon and signed “State of Israel.”

The United Nations, as well as the Red Cross and other aid groups, said they were unable to move convoys to the villages around Tyre to deliver supplies or even dig out bodies buried under rubble.

In Israel, where public and political pressure is mounting over the stalled campaign, after four weeks of conflict, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he had ordered contingency plans for a bigger ground offensive when the Security Cabinet meets on Wednesday to consider widening the war.

“I have instructed all the I.D.F. commanders to prepare for an operation aimed at taking over launching areas and reduce as much as possible Hezbollah’s rocket launching capability,” he said, using the initials for the Israeli Defense Forces.

“If we see that the diplomatic efforts do not yield the results we expect, we will have to do it ourselves,’’ he added, referring to efforts at the United Nations, led by the United States and France, for a cease-fire resolution.

But with both combatants locked in what each sees as a struggle for survival, it seemed unlikely that a Security Council resolution would have any immediate effect.

In New York on Tuesday, an Arab League delegation told members of the Security Council that the draft resolution to halt hostilities would only worsen the crisis, because it did not demand an immediate Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

“What is happening will sow the seeds of hatred and extremism in the area, and provide a pretext for those who feel that the international community is taking sides,’’ said Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar.

A senior Bush administration official said he did not see Israel agreeing to a resolution that would call for an immediate withdrawal. Under the current draft, they would leave only on the arrival of an international force, which would be created by a second resolution that would also address political dimensions of the problems, including the disarming of Hezbollah.

But the official, requesting anonymity to discuss administration strategy, said the United States saw a plan announced Monday by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon, which would send 15,000 Lebanese troops to the south, as something that could be written into the resolution to win Arab support.

“If the way this ends is deployment of the Lebanese armed forces to the blue line,” he said, referring to the Israeli border, “that would mean that the government of Lebanon was the one who would work with the Israelis to withdraw. It’s one piece of the puzzle that would help to stabilize Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, in an unusual move Israeli observers suggested was a prelude to heavy combat, the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz of the air force, named his deputy, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, as his personal representative to supervise the fighting in Lebanon. The bypassing of the Israeli ground commander, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, led Israeli television news Tuesday night, with a Channel One reporter, Yoav Limor, saying “the failure is that of the army.” He described General Kaplinsky as “a winning officer” who was sent north to deliver victory.

In the fighting Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike killed 13 people in the Shiite village of Al Ghaziye. Other airstrikes hit the south — about 40 raids in a score of locations — and transportation routes to the east in the mostly Shiite Bekaa Valley.

The Israeli military said three soldiers were killed and eight wounded in the ground fighting on Tuesday. Much of the fighting was centered around Bint Jbail, which was a Hezbollah stronghold a few miles north of the border. Illustrating the tenacity of the fighting, it is an area Israel said it seized weeks ago.

In Beirut, explosions sounded Tuesday night in the heavily Shiite slum districts on the city’s southern edge. Hezbollah fired more than 150 rockets into northern Israel, injuring several people.

[An Israeli strike on a Palestinian refugee camp, Ain el Hilwe, in south Lebanon killed at least one person, medics said early Wednesday, according to Reuters.]

With all of the major highways now cut and with a naval blockade off the coast, gasoline and fuel for generating electricity were running short. With rationing, there is enough fuel for five more days of electricity, a Lebanese government official estimated Tuesday, putting hospitals, already overwhelmed with the wounded, in particular peril.

International aid workers said the situation was particularly dire throughout the south, because convoys could not reach Tyre, nor venture from there to the outlying villages.

“South of the Litani is off,” said Khaled Mansour, the chief United Nations spokesman in Lebanon, indicating that the agency’s aid convoys had been halted because the last bridge over the Litani River north of Tyre had been blown up.

The United Nations World Food Program has stopped deliveries of food to southern villages because of the danger on the roads, said a spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume.

The World Health Organization warned that if fuel is not delivered soon, 60 percent of the hospitals in Lebanon will “simply cease to function.”

Reporting for this article was contributed by Jad Mouawad from Beirut, Warren Hoge from the United Nations, Sabrina Tavernise from Tyre, Lebanon, and Greg Myre from Jerusalem.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?