- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

BEIRUT — Aid convoys continue to face difficulties reaching devastated villages in southern Lebanon, with hazards including heavy traffic, cratered roads and the threat of aerial assault by Israelis.

At least 100 tons of prepared food, staples and other relief items were delivered to the region during the 48-hour Israeli slowdown in bombing that ended early Tuesday morning, according to relief agencies.

But getting boxes of basic supplies to the families who need it remains difficult, especially now that the ground war has expanded.

“The fighting is going on just outside Tyre,” International Red Cross spokesman Roland Huguenin said of the southern Lebanese coastal city.

About 100,000 people are still trapped in southern Lebanon, according to the Red Cross, though thousands have made their way to Sidon or farther north in the past few days.

Aid officials estimate there are 25,000 people still in Tyre and its suburbs, 40,000 Palestinians living in designated refugee camps and 35,000 scattered in villages all the way to the Israeli border.

The United Nations estimates that 70 percent of the people below the Litani River have left their homes.

The damage is so extensive that the Lebanese Finance Ministry said it could take seven years and at least $4 billion to rebuild.

Human Rights Watch has prepared a report critical of Israel’s “systematic failure” to distinguish between civilian and military targets in its bombing, which the group says constitutes a war crime under international law.

The 40-page report, assembled from interviews with people who fled their homes, describes in detail the bombings in Qana and Srifa, with their heavy loss of life, as well as attacks on convoys of people fleeing the south.

“To do it time and time again, it appears to be a policy,” said Nadim Houry, Human Right Watch’s researcher for Lebanon. “It’s not a policy of intentionally doing it but a policy not to care.”

The entire country is reeling from the Israeli attacks, which have displaced as many as 900,000 people, crippled civilian infrastructure and killed nearly 850 people, according to the Lebanese government Web site.

The biggest problem in the south is not food, but a shortage of fuel and water, relief officials say.

Israel has knocked out power generators and transformers, cutting back on electricity necessary to filter and pump water, and run hospitals. Additionally, gasoline is scarce, with drivers paying up to $175 to fill a tank with gas.

Mr. Huguenin said that, despite the fuel and electricity shortages, Lebanon is better off than other nations in the throes of a humanitarian emergency.

Money and in-kind assistance is coming in from Arab and European countries, and the United States has already delivered some $18 million worth of relief.

“This is a well known country, very well connected,” Mr. Huguenin said of the expatriates and intense interest from the media. “In that way, it is better off than many African countries.”

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