As Lebanon’s Fuel Runs Rut, Fears of a Doomsday Moment & Israeli Warplanes Plunge Tyre into Darkness

August 12th, 2006 - by admin

Hassan M. Fattah / New York Times & Associated Press – 2006-08-12 23:20:58

BEIRUT, Lebanon, (August 8, 2006) — Dr. Nadim Cortas saw the destruction wrought by Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, and the shortages of medical supplies that went with it. But, he says, he never thought he would face a situation like this: the respirators and critical medical equipment in his hospital could soon come to a halt.

“This is the doomsday scenario,” said Dr. Cortas, dean of the faculty of medicine at the American University of Beirut and vice president for medical affairs. “We have about 10 days of power left,” he said.

Almost one month into the siege of Lebanon, with a land, sea and air blockade by Israel choking off the country, fuel reserves have all but dried up. Two ships that were to offload more than 30,000 tons each of diesel fuel and fuel oil to crank the country’s power plants and generators have languished in Cyprus, unable or unwilling to enter Lebanese waters.

A large stockpile of fuel oil at the Jiyeh power plant, just south of Beirut, was lost when Israeli warplanes bombed it on the second day of the war, sending oil seeping into the Mediterranean Sea or catching fire, sending a thick plume over Beirut.

Even when authorities have been able to scrounge up diesel fuel to power generators, trucks have not been able to deliver it to hospitals in the south of the country because of bombed out roadways and continuing air strikes.

The most pessimistic estimates have the country running out of fuel for its power plants in a week; the most optimistic give Lebanon less than a month before the blackout.

“We’re counting down the days,” said Nabil al-Asr, a government adviser who has been focused on fuel issues for the High Relief Council, a governmental board. “There are going to be problems everywhere from hospitals to water pumping. The pain will go all around.”

The blockade has affected every part of Lebanon’s economy. Lines at gas stations now stretch for blocks in Beirut, making filling up a half-day affair. Gasoline sold on the black market in Beirut costs at least twice as much as usual; in the south it can reach $100 per gallon. Electricity is being rationed, with the power out almost 12 hours a day in some places. Lebanon’s utility company has dropped generating output to a quarter of its capacity just to make supplies last, Mr. Asr said. But that has only increased demand for diesel to fuel private generators.

The menus at most restaurants have shrunk, too, as food supplies have begun dwindling. Even diet cola is in short supply. Newspapers have begun to run out of newsprint, forcing some to reduce page counts and make plans to stop printing altogether.

Even for those that can print full editions, sales have dropped because of the difficulty of distributing them. Nowhere have the shortages been more critical, though, than in Lebanon’s hospitals, many of which have been forced to close departments or turn away all but the most critical cases.

Kidney dialysis supplies have been running out, as have stocks of heart medications and nuclear medicine for diagnostic tests, Dr. Cortas said. The potential loss of electrical power — both from the national utility, Électricité du Liban, and from in-house generators — poses the most catastrophic problem, he and others said. “A hospital won’t stop working because it’s missing one or two medications — you simply find substitutes,” said Sleiman Haroun, head of Lebanon’s association of hospital owners, which has scrambled to find fuel and keep supply lines running. “But a hospital will grind to a halt if it’s out of fuel.”

The American University Hospital, the region’s pre-eminent medical research and treatment center, never closed its doors during the civil war or during numerous Israeli bombardments that followed. But even here, doctors and personnel have begun to fear a possible shutdown. “We never thought we could get to ground zero in such a short time,” said George Tomey, who became acting president of the university when the school’s American and European staff evacuated at the beginning of the war. “I have been here for 40 years and this is the worst it has ever been.”

By Monday, 200 of the hospital’s 325 beds were occupied. There were between 8 and 12 patients in intensive care, 22 babies in critical condition in the neonatal ward and at least 37 casualties from the bombings in the south. It could take up to 20 tons of diesel fuel a day to keep the hospital running if the main utility shuts down, says Dr. Haroun, the hospital association official. Even smaller hospitals need hundreds of gallons of diesel per day to stay powered, quantities that are becoming harder find.

“Hospitals typically store 20 day’s worth of fuel — now many have only two or three days,” Dr. Haroun said. “Sure you can eventually find one or two days’ worth. But then what?” In Beirut, hospital administrators have agreed to funnel utility power to Beirut’s four largest hospitals and leave smaller hospitals powered by generators, said Dr. Cortas, the medical school dean. That decision ensures diesel supplies remain with those hospitals, buying perhaps several more days.

More drastic plans include gathering critical patients at one hospital that will get priority for diesel. American University Hospital officials have also begun to lobby the United States to pressure Israel to allow oil tankers to sail into Beirut.

The ships’ captains have refused to enter Lebanese waters without Israeli and United Nations guarantees. So far, however, the Israelis have not granted the ships safe passage, Mr. Asr said.

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Israeli Warplanes Plunge Tyre into Darkness
Associated Press

(August 11, 2006) — Israeli warplanes bombed two electricity transformers in south Lebanon on Friday night, plunging the port city of Tyre into darkness, security sources said.

The attack came as Israel said it was expanding its ground operation in southern Lebanon.

An Israeli drone fired missiles into a convoy of refugees fleeing attacks in the southern town of Marjayoun, killing and wounding as many as 15 people, witnesses and security officials said.

The convoy, consisting of more than 100 civilian vehicles and those carrying a detachment of 350 Lebanese soldiers and police from the area around Marjayoun, was hit near Chtaura on the west side of the Bekaa Valley.

Two armored UN peacekeeping vehicles had led the convoy out of Marjayoun Friday afternoon, but it was not known if they were still accompanying it when the attack occurred.

Associated Press photographer Lutfallah Daher was with the convoy and said he saw the body of one dead man and many others wounded. The state-run National News Agency said at least four people were killed. Al-Jazeera television reported that the Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said three people were killed and 7 wounded.

Marjayoun was taken by Israeli soldiers early Thursday and intense bombing and artillery fire has been reported in the region for the past 24 hours.

Security officials in the Bekaa said at least nine rockets were fired on the convoy. Hospital officials in the town of Job Jannine said they had received 25 casualties from the attack, although it was not immediately clear how many were fatalities.

Daher said there was a second attack on Red Cross and civil defense vehicles rushing the aid of the stricken convoy. It was not known, he said, if any rescuers were hurt.

Reuters contributed to this report

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.