UN says Lebanon in humanitarian crisis

LARNACA, Cyprus (AFP) — UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland said Saturday that Lebanon was suffering a major humanitarian crisis owing to a “senseless war” and complained of the difficulties of delivering aid.

Egeland, who was in Cyprus on his way to visit Lebanon to launch an emergency aid appeal, criticised alike Israel’s blistering response to attacks by Hizbollah and the group’s rocket strikes on the Jewish state.

“The whole thing has to stop. It’s no natural disaster but a man-made crisis. This is a senseless war. It should never have started. It should never have been carried out like it is now,” he said.

“We can’t get relief into the country in any quantity or distribute it beyond a few points. This is already a very major crisis with more than half a million directly affected,” he told reporters.

“This number will grow dramatically as the population of south Lebanon has been asked to leave” by the Israeli army. He said the United Nations would be concentrating on setting up humanitarian corridors in the next few days and wanted to use the Cyprus-Beirut shipping route to bring in aid. But he said he also wanted to send aid in by road and by air using Beirut’s international airport, which has been shut since the start of the offensive after a succession of Israeli raids.

Israel said earlier it had authorised an 80 by eight kilometre safe passage to the Beirut port for ships and aircraft, adding that no international body had yet made a request.

“Israel has given initial positive assurances that they want to work with us to establish these corridors but we still do not have a formal go ahead,” said Egeland for his part. Egeland, who was to be flown to Beirut early Sunday aboard a British military helicopter, said he would be launching an international appeal on Monday “urging and begging” for over $100 million.

“We are particularly worried about the civilian population in the south so gravely caught in the crossfire,” he added. “To a large degree they have nothing to do with the deplorable and despicable Hizbollah rockets raining into Israel.” He also echoed criticism from other UN officials over the Israeli military response, which has already killed at least 350 people in Lebanon.

The Israeli military response has been “disproportionate, when to my thinking one third of the wounded and killed are women and children, then it clearly goes far beyond responding to armed groups”, he said.

Egeland, who was set to visit Israel on Tuesday and the Gaza Strip too, also expressed alarm over the humanitarian situation in Gaza amid the Israeli offensive there.

The Palestinian people are also “in its gravest hour of need in many years. We need a more effective relief effort there and we need Israel to enable the relief effort more effectively,” he said

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