Lebanon: Scale of the Human Crisis Emerges

July 24th, 2006 - by admin

Brian Whitaker / The Guardian – 2006-07-24 23:46:31


Lebanon: Scale of the Human Crisis Emerges
Brian Whitaker / The Guardian

BEIRUT(July 25, 2006) — The people of Lebanon are facing their “hour of greatest need”, the UN said yesterday in launching an emergency appeal for $150 million (£81 million) to help an estimated 800,000 civilians whose lives have been disrupted by Israeli bombing of Lebanon.

The relief plan would focus on providing food, water, healthcare and other essential services, Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator, said.

The situation in Lebanon is “very bad, and deteriorating by the day”, said Mr Egeland. On Sunday he described the bombing of south Beirut as “a violation of humanitarian law”. But last night he had harsh words for Hizbullah as well, rebuking the Shi’ite group for cravenly using civilians as human shields. “Hizbullah must stop this cowardly blending… among women and children,” Mr Egeland said.

A UN report accompanying the appeal highlighted the scale of the devastation during 12 days of warfare, saying:
The ongoing [Israeli] military operation has caused enormous damage to residential areas and key civilian infrastructure such as power plants, seaports and fuel depots. Hundreds of bridges and virtually all road networks have been systematically destroyed, leaving entire communities in the south inaccessible.

Skyrocketing prices for basic goods (eg: the price of sugar has risen by 600% and cooking gas by 400%) further deplete the coping mechanisms of the Lebanese.

The longer the hostilities last, the more dramatic the humanitarian situation will become. Food, water, health, fuel, and other basic needs will increase; so will the number of internally displaced persons.

Reports indicate that there is a lack of essential goods, with needs particularly acute in villages along the Israeli-Lebanese border, which have been isolated by the conflict. There are reports that food supplies in some villages have been exhausted.

The widespread destruction of public infrastructure … as well as the targeting of commercial trucks, has seriously hampered relief operations.

As many as 800 persons live in a school designed for 200 to 300 children. School water systems cannot cope with the extent of needs. Neither can sanitary facilities… a resurgence of diarrhoea cases has been noted in some centres.

In addition to this list, Mr Egeland said there was one school housing 1,000 people which had only six toilets. He warned that fuel was becoming critical in many areas and power failure would affect water supplies and sewage, bringing increased health risks. Calling for an immediate ceasefire, he said: “Only cessation of hostilities can really make it safe for us [to deliver aid].” Failing that, the UN was hoping to arrange a “notification scheme” which would allow safe passage for humanitarian goods.

The UN already had 100 trucks contracted or on their way to deliver aid within Lebanon, Mr Egeland said. The first convoy could head south from Beirut to Sidon and Tyre as early as tomorrow, and the UN was working on details with the Israeli military, he said.

The UN is asking Israel for safe passage through three Lebanese ports. Initially, it hopes to have two ships ferrying supplies into Beirut from Cyprus, with the ports of Tripoli, in the north, and Tyre, in the south, to be added later.

It has also asked Israel to grant safe passage for convoys from Syria. Mr Egeland said the plan was to set up a staging area on the border to receive aid and prioritise it for distribution. “We are hopeful that in the course of this week you will see a real difference on the ground. By next week we will have a major operation really started,” he said.

The White House said yesterday that George Bush had ordered helicopters and ships to Lebanon to give humanitarian aid. “Humanitarian supplies will start arriving in Lebanon tomorrow by helicopter and by ship,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow. “We are working with Israel and Lebanon to open up humanitarian corridors.” He described the move as “a significant US commitment”.

Mr Bush still opposed the idea of an immediate ceasefire, he added, saying there was no reason to believe it would stop violence in the Middle East; instead the world should confront Hizbullah and its practice of using the Lebanese people as “human shields”.

Red Cross Ambulances on Rescue Mission Destroyed in Israeli Air Strike
Suzanne Goldenberg /The Guardian

TYRE (July 25, 2006) — The ambulance headlamps were on, the blue light overhead was flashing, and another light illuminated the Red Cross flag when the first Israeli missile hit, shearing off the right leg of the man on the stretcher inside. As he lay screaming beneath fire and smoke, patients and ambulance workers scrambled for safety, crawling over glass in the dark. Then another missile hit the second ambulance.

Even in a war which has turned the roads of south Lebanon into killing zones, Israel’s rocket strike on two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances on Sunday night set a deadly new milestone.

Six ambulance workers were wounded and three generations of the Fawaz family, being transported to hospital from Tibnin with what were originally minor injuries, were left fighting for their lives. Two ambulances were entirely destroyed, their roofs pierced by missiles.

The Lebanese Red Cross, whose ambulance service for south Lebanon is run entirely by volunteers, immediately announced it would cease all rescue missions unless Israel guaranteed their safety through the United Nations or the International Red Cross.

For the villages below the Litani river, the ambulances were their last link to the outside world. Yesterday, that too was gone, leaving the 100,000 people of Tyre district with no way of reaching hospital other than to take to the roads themselves, under the roar of Israeli war planes.

The fateful call to the Red Cross operations room came through at about 10pm — well after dark, a time when almost no Lebanese now dare venture out.

At the Red Cross office in Tyre, three volunteer medics dressed in their orange overalls, and got into their ambulance. The plan was to drive halfway, meet the local ambulance, and transfer the three patients to their vehicle to return to Tyre.

By Nader Joudi’s reckoning, the ambulances had been stopped for barely two minutes. Two patients had been loaded: Ahmed Mustafa Fawaz, who had been hit by shrapnel in the stomach, and his son, Mohammed, 14. The volunteer attendant was just easing Jamila Fawaz, 80, inside and setting up a drip when the missile struck. He managed to get the old woman and the child outside, but there was no way to reach Mr Fawaz. “It was horrible,” Mr Joudi said. “He was screaming, and we couldn’t do anything.”

One of the members of the three-man crew from Tibnin radioed for help when another missile plunged through the roof. Ambulance crew and patients retreated to the cellar of a nearby building, then waited to be rescued, trying as best as they could to help the injured. “Each of us treated ourselves. There was no light,” said Kassem Shaalan, a medic from Tyre.

By the time patients and ambulance crew reached Tyre, Mr Fawaz was unconscious after losing one leg, and suffering severe fractures to the other. His son had lost part of a foot, and his mother’s body was riddled with shrapnel. Mr Joudi had shrapnel wounds in his left arm, and Mr Shaalan cuts to the face and leg.

He was adamant that the ambulances, with their Red Cross insignia on the roof, were clearly visible from the air. “I don’t think there can be a mistake in two bombings of two ambulances,” he said.

Although the air strike marked the first time ambulances have been hit by Israel in this war, for Mr Shaalan and the other Red Cross volunteers it was only a matter of time. After two weeks of strikes designed to choke off possible supply lines to Hizbullah guerrillas, travel to many villages was just too dangerous. Coastal villages even within a few kilometers of Tyre are cut off. In some, corpses remain trapped in the rubble for days.

But nothing is more perilous than travelling by night, and no more so than just before midnight that Sunday when another Red Cross crew set off from Tyre to pick up their injured colleagues.

“I was trembling,” said Ali Deeb, one of the volunteers on the mission. “It was too dangerous, and helicopters buzzing, and all through this, I am thinking one thing: the ambulance that left half an hour before you has already been injured, and you could be next.” Later yesterday afternoon, two missiles landed in the building across the road from the Red Cross office.

The Toll



Civilian deaths 8

Hizbullah deaths 0

Since outbreak

Military deaths 66

Civilian deaths 377

Wounded 1,550+



Civilian deaths 0

Military deaths 4

Since outbreak

Military deaths 24

Civilian deaths 17

Wounded 360+