- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

BEIRUT — The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross walked across a log suspended over the shallow Litani River into southern Lebanon yesterday, a symbolic protest against Israel for knocking out bridges and making aid deliveries difficult.

The log has become the supply route for determined relief agencies and an uneasy egress for Lebanese civilians stranded in the south as Israel expands its ground war to eliminate Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

Lebanese officials say they won’t rebuild the bridges as long as Israel targets vehicles crossing the Litani.

“Our main concerns is access,” said Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger, who crossed into southern Lebanon earlier this week and continued to Tel Aviv yesterday for meetings with Israeli officials.

“Our other main concern is the respect of humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities. You cannot rid yourself of your responsibility by dropping leaflets.”

Relief agencies say the threat of Israeli air strikes and badly damaged roads have kept them from delivering desperately needed assistance to those stranded in southern towns and villages. Aid is dispatched in convoys of fewer, smaller vehicles, which the Israeli military suspects of resupplying of Hezbollah arms.

Even those deliveries are curtailed by an acute shortage of gasoline. Gasoline rationing and danger have made some aid workers reluctant to come to work, relief officials say, and Israel’s blockade of sea, land and air routes makes it difficult to bring in technical specialists. “Our Lebanese staff has had to shoulder all the weight for this,” said Kevin Cook, a spokesman for World Vision International.

“There is a prevailing sense of frustration due to the infrastructure … and staff spends half their time in queues to get [gasoline]. It’s one thing piled on top of the next. In some ways, this situation is approaching the worst-case scenario for humanitarian intervention.”

World Vision has stocked 70 tons of relief supplies in Cyprus and is unable to ferry it across the Mediterranean for lack of insurance. A water-purification system is stranded on the dock, as are emergency fuel, food and shelter supplies. They were to have arrived Monday, but it is not certain when the items will get to Beirut.

“We can’t keep up the current level of activities without establishing a pipeline. There is help coming, but it’s a trickle compared to what we want to do.”

There are no reliable figures on how many civilians remain in their homes below the Litani River. Few residents were visible yesterday. The World Health Organization and Lebanese medical officials say hospitals are closing because of a lack of fuel for generators and a shortage of medicines. A separate humanitarian emergency is unfolding in the Palestinian refugee camps, which are served exclusively by the United Nations.

Palestinians, who traditionally have been treated as unwanted guests in Lebanon, have opened their crowded homes to Lebanese and Palestinian families fleeing fighting.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has requested $7.5 million to meet emergency needs, in addition to the $150 million appeal by the U.N. humanitarian office. With the central government largely unable to help the relief effort, towns and cities have put together their own relief programs.

Abdul Rahman Bizri, the mayor of Sidon, said he has met with every Lebanese, Arab and foreign aid group that turned up and is eager to attract more such groups. Aid groups have installed portable showers and toilets in schools and parking garages that have been converted into shelters for 35,000 evacuees. Mr. Bizri said relief workers provide hot meals for less than 50 cents each.

Hezbollah, which has fired more than 3,000 rockets into northern Israel since the conflict began, has provided emergency assistance, mostly with private donations. Many aid organizations refuse to work with Hezbollah, which the U.S. government has identified as a terrorist organization.

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