Hundreds displaced by Israeli attacks, say aid workers

The aftermath of attacks by Israel on Lebanon 16 July 2006. (Peter Speetjens/IRIN)


BEIRUT - Aid workers say that hundreds of people have been displaced from the south of the country and from the suburbs of the capital, all areas which have come under heavy Israeli attack in recent days. According to relief workers, the main concern is for those who remain inaccessible as a result of continuous bombardments that have left many areas isolated.

“A lot of people remain in inaccessible areas,” said Monique Nanchen, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegate in Beirut.

While accurate statistics are not yet available, ICRC officials say they have received reports from local sources that an estimated 3,400 people have been displaced from southern villages on the border with Israel, with many residents reportedly fleeing to the nearby city of Tyre. Additionally, some 2,600 internally displaced people – mostly from the outskirts of Beirut and from the south – remain in and around the capital.

Minister of Social Affairs Nayla Mouawad told reporters on Saturday that her ministry was “making calls to ask for urgent assistance from humanitarian associations to help the hundreds of displaced families taking shelter in public schools”. “We’ve established an emergency operation unit that will be taking calls from Lebanese citizens 24 hours a day,” Mouawad added.

Aid workers say it has become difficult to access affected areas, however, and have received reports of terrified civilians hiding in schools, mosques and churches.

Health Minister Muhammed Jawad Khalifa also expressed concern over the lack of adequate medical supplies in some areas. “We may be able to keep the situation under control for five days, but if the siege continues, we’ll be heading for disaster,” he said.

Bombings began on 12 July after Lebanese militant group Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed another eight in a raid. Tel Aviv has vowed to keep up the attacks until the soldiers are released.

Meanwhile, fearing escalation, residents of southern Lebanon have begun hoarding supplies in expectation of a prolonged siege. “We’re afraid,” said Paula Karam, a 42-year-old resident of a Christian suburb of Beirut. “We have children and elderly to take care of. If the food runs out, it will be a disaster.”

Kazem Ibrahim, head of the Lebanese Bakers Association, expressed concern over local food distribution. “Workers are failing to come to work,” he said. “So far, we haven’t been able to send a single loaf of bread to the southern towns and cities.”

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