Monday, August 07, 2006

Israel cuts aid artery to south Lebanon

Israel cuts aid artery to south Lebanon
By Michael Winfrey (REUTERS)

An Israeli air strike destroyed the last crossing over Lebanon's Litani river on Monday, cutting off the main artery for aid to the southern port of Tyre and hard-hit areas nearby, a humanitarian group said.

Christopher Stokes, director of operations for Medecins San Frontieres (MSF), said the bombing of a makeshift bridge had blocked a convoy of food, medical aid and fuel to Tyre, which has seen an increase in wounded from heavy fighting this week. "Our last remaining supply route into Tyre into the south has been cut," he said after the air strike on the Qasmiyeh crossing about 10 km (6 miles) north of Tyre. The main Qasmiyeh road bridge was knocked out by earlier air raids. "They have also told us that they can provide no security guarantee that our convoy will not be attacked, so if we move it will be at our own risk and peril," Stokes said.

The agency said it would drive the supplies to the river's edge at a narrow crossing and then pass them across by hand -- a dangerous operation after an Israeli air strike hit a truck about 40 meters (yards) from a U.N. convoy, killing two civilians, on Sunday. "We are going to have to transfer by hand, which will leave us very exposed," Stokes said. "These are very urgently needed supplies, especially if there is going to be increased fighting near Tyre."

The United Nations said it sent a convoy of 19 trucks carrying aid south of Beirut to Sidon. Another 11 trucks brought supplies south from stockpiles in Syria on a slow, difficult route of secondary roads after Israeli jets destroyed four bridges on what the U.N. called its aid "lifeline" on Thursday.

The United Nations has led the wide array of complaints by humanitarian groups who say Israeli artillery, air strikes and a naval blockade are hindering them from helping many of the 800,000 to 1 million people displaced by the war in Lebanon. Patrick Renauld, head of the European Commission's delegation in Beirut, said the bloc was deeply concerned by air strikes against civilian infrastructure and expressed shock at the lengths humanitarian groups had to take to protect themselves. "What kind of world are we living in where we have to use armored vehicles to deliver aid," he told reporters. "The fact that all the bridges and roads are broken is creating huge difficulties ... We cannot work in a humanitarian capacity unless international rules are followed."

Israeli air strikes have destroyed around 70 bridges, as well as roads, airports and ports in damage estimated at more than $2.5 billion.

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