- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

TEBNINE, Lebanon

Thousands of people took advantage of Israel’s brief let-up in bombing to escape the terrifying prison their homes had become.

Across southern Lebanon Monday and yesterday, families raced to safety, sought food and medicine, and buried their dead. Hundreds have been killed in air strikes on villages — areas that, Israel says, the Hezbollah militia has used to fire rockets into Israel.

The 48-hour bombing pause, which ended last night, also allowed aid workers to evacuate the injured and amass humanitarian supplies in a country where nearly one citizen in four has been uprooted by warfare.

The United Nations “is well aware that Lebanon and the Lebanese government would have been capable of providing for the entire country had there not been a military blockade by land, air and sea,” Mona Hammam, U.N. aid coordinator for Lebanon, said Monday.

“We are assisting the government to do what they cannot do: to provide for its people during this time,” she added.

Enough food generally is available in the southern region, a lush patchwork of vegetable fields and orchards. But limited water and fuel have hampered rescue efforts, and the treacherous roads have stymied both refugees and aid convoys.

A looming fuel shortage — which jeopardized power plants, private generators and automobiles — was averted yesterday when the United Nations won Israeli approval for two tankers to dock in Lebanese ports. They will carry enough gasoline to keep the country going 15 to 20 more days, a Cabinet spokesman said.

The 21-day-old conflict has killed 831 Lebanese and injured 3,243, according to the latest figures from the government and the United Nations. The Lebanese Ministry of Health said yesterday that 200 more bodies had been located in southern Lebanon but could not be recovered or identified.

More than 900,000 Lebanese have been dispersed by Israeli bombs and ground fighting, the great majority of them from the south. By some international estimates, as much as 70 percent of the population below the Litani River has been displaced.

The Australian government yesterday morning ran four luxury buses from Beirut to Tyre to evacuate several dozen Australians, Europeans and other foreigners on an approved list. The coaches were absurdly large for the narrow, cratered dirt roads and halted traffic in both directions at several points in the journey.

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