Monday, August 28, 2006

BYBLOS, Lebanon — Now that the fighting is over, cleanup efforts by the Lebanese government and Lebanese charity groups have begun in earnest along Lebanon’s coastline, which in the summer is normally teeming with visitors to its beaches.

About 15,000 tons of heavy fuel oil were spilled into the Mediterranean and have moved north as far as Turkey, in addition to an estimated 15,000 tons that likely burned.

On Sunday, two Lebanese environmental groups, Green Line and Byblos Ecologia, were working to clean a beach at a resort here.

Because of the lapse between the spill, which occurred when Israeli rockets hit a fuel-storage facility south of Beirut on July 13 and 15, and the beginning of cleanup efforts, new sand has covered much of the oil and volunteers had to dig to reach the sludge.

Fifi Kallab, the head of Byblos Ecologia, said that initially, volunteers had been also been prevented from cleaning up by the government.

“They didn’t want to let the volunteers to do this work — the navy and the volunteers were ready to do this work, but they prefer to give it to a private company,” Miss Kallab said.

Ghada Mitri, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, said that no private companies had yet been hired and that the problem had been one of coordination and the bureaucracy of the Lebanese government, as well as one of prioritizing which areas to clean up first. There was no point in beginning to clean beaches until oil had been removed from the water, she said.

“Some of the marinas have a sludge, a soup on them,” Miss Mitri said. “The oil is being redispersed.”

Miss Mitri also said that one of the other major problems has been getting permission from the Israeli government, which still maintains a land and sea blockade of Lebanon, to do overflights of the oil spill to monitor cleanup efforts and the movement of the oil.

Miss Mitri said the Lebanese government had been tentatively cleared for an overflight today.

“Because we do not still have control of our air and sea space, we need permission to do anything on the air or in the sea,” she said. “To find out what the situation is exactly with the spill, the United Nations environment program had to contact the Israeli government force.

“We applied on Thursday, and we were told that the Israeli government doesn’t work on Friday and Saturday,” she said.

Charbel Abboud, who has been a fisherman in Byblos for 10 years, said, “They started to clean up this place a month ago, and they just finished yesterday.”

“They removed 125 tons. Our business suffered very much. We have not been able to put food on the table. We are just sitting. We don’t have anything to do,” Mr. Abboud said he hoped to start fishing again next week.

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