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France, others mobilize aid to Lebanon

Saturday, July 22, 2006

PARIS -- France mobilized Friday to send urgent aid to Lebanon, the Red Cross managed to get relief supplies to the south -- and Israel agreed to allow a safe corridor crucial to ensuring that food and medicine reaches those in need.

International efforts to get humanitarian aid to Lebanon appeared to be getting off the ground at last. Demands mounted for safe passage for aid to millions of Lebanese increasingly isolated by Israel's air and sea blockade.

Israeli airstrikes have demolished bridges and main roads across southern Lebanon, making movement difficult and dangerous. Some villages have been almost completely cut off, and many civilian cars and trucks have been hit on the roads. In the only confirmed strike on an aid delivery, a convoy carrying medical supplies sent from the United Arab Emirates was hit Tuesday, setting a truck on fire and damaging another.

Responding to intense international pressure, including an appeal from the United States, Israel's U.N. ambassador Dan Gillerman said he expected a corridor for food, medicine and other supplies to be opened later Friday or today.

The Israeli army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said in Tel Aviv on Friday that Israel had decided to allow a safe path for evacuations, and another corridor for humanitarian aid, "out of an understanding for the developing difficulty."

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said French humanitarian aid arriving Friday on a French ship at the south Lebanese port of Sidon would be allowed through.

Several countries pledged to contribute to international aid efforts, though France was one of the few to organize relief on its own. France has historic ties to Lebanon and has been instrumental in the international push to end the violence.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said during a visit to Beirut on Friday that France was dispatching urgent aid to Lebanon by air and sea, and pleaded for safe passage.

The son of slain Lebanese ex-premier Rafik Hariri thanked French President Jacques Chirac on Friday for his diplomatic efforts, saying "without France, the humanitarian corridor wouldn't be possible."

Aid workers are worried about decreasing supplies of safe water and sanitation, but say it is difficult to assess needs because they're having trouble moving around the country.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday made its first attempt since the fighting began July 12 to supply the coastal city of Tyre in southern Lebanon.

The convoy arrived after a six-hour journey over war-damaged roads from Beirut. The relief effort -- coordinated with Israeli authorities -- brought 24 tons of food, medical supplies and other assistance to the port city, according to spokesman Vincent Lusser.

UNICEF will be delivering water kits, purification tablets, water containers, essential drugs and toys over the weekend to Damascus for road shipment to Lebanon.

"We're talking about kids that have suffered from scars that have been inflicted over the last few days that are likely to last a generation. Finding some way to find some kind of normalcy in a completely abnormal situation is another one of our priorities," UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte said.

Stockpiles of aid supplies are growing as countries worldwide pledge funds.

"The international community must help, and quickly," Norwegian Prime Ministers Jens Stoltenberg said, pledging $32 million in aid to Lebanon and the Palestinians.

Britain's Department for International Development announced $4.95 million in aid to be sent through the EU and international agencies. It was also arranging for humanitarian and reconstruction advisers to be sent to the region.

Greece delivered 22 tons of medical and other aid to Beirut Friday on a Greek Navy ship. Doctors accompanied the shipments of medical materials, tents, blankets and canned food.

Turkey's Red Crescent announced it would ship food, medicine, diapers and baby food to a logistics center in Syria next week for distribution by the Lebanese Red Cross.

Iranian newspapers and state-run television have carried bank account numbers for government aid donations for Lebanese civilians. Iran's Health Ministry said it was prepared to send medical supplies and treat Lebanese war casualties at Iranian hospitals.

An overall U.N. appeal for aid was to be launched Monday in New York. U.N. officials estimated half a million people have been displaced by fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militias based in southern Lebanon.

Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and the first U.N. administrator for Kosovo, said humanitarian corridors were not enough.

"That won't settle the fundamental problem," he said on France Inter radio, calling for an immediate cease-fire and a U.N. resolution allowing for military force.


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