Lebanon says fuel shortage may shut hospitals

BEIRUT (AFP) — Hospitals treating thousands of wounded in Lebanon have fuel for only one more week and many will have to close if Israel keeps up a blockade on the country, the health minister warned on Saturday.

“Hospitals only have fuel for one more week, some even less. Many of them will have to close if fuel shipments continued to be blocked,” Mohammad Khalifeh told AFP.

“This is a pressing question, and it is alarming. We are engaged in contacts with all concerned parties to resolve this crisis,” he said.

Lebanese officials have accused Israel, which has been blockading Lebanon’s airports and ports for three weeks, of refusing to allow the shipment of much-needed fuel, particularly for power plants.

An Israeli army spokesman insisted Israel granted authorisation three days ago to two fuel ships to head to Lebanon and “they decided to remain off the coasts apparently because they were afraid to be targeted by Hizbollah fire.” It was not immediately possible to verify the claim.

Air and artillery attacks by the Jewish state have destroyed roads and more than 100 bridges across Lebanon in a bid to seal the blockade imposed since it launched its onslaught on July 12 after Hizbollah captured two of its soldiers.

The offensive has killed nearly 1,000 people in Lebanon, and wounded more than 3,300 others, while another 900,000 have been displaced — fleeing homes in fear of Israel’s bombardment to live in schools and public gardens.

“Even if we get a fuel shipment soon, we would still be facing problems. The roads are destroyed and the bridges are wrecked, so we cannot transport the fuel to the regions,” the minister said.

He said “trucks carrying 30 or 40 tonnes of fuel cannot travel by land to various [Lebanese] regions any more. We will have to use smaller means of transportation and this is complicated,” he said.

“Or because of the impossibility of transporting them by land, we will have to find a way to ship fuel directly to ports in the regions, maybe Zahrani in the south and Tripoli in the north,” he said.

An official at one of Beirut’s leading hospitals who did not wish to be identified told AFP that “we are already functioning on our fuel reserves.” “We are also already experiencing difficulties, especially in the operation rooms,” he said, warning that fuel cuts would “particularly affect operation rooms, emergency rooms, life support and medical machines.” An official at another hospital said fuel was running out more quickly because medical centres were forced to use private generators because of power cuts of state electricity because of Israeli attacks on power stations.

Khalifeh said a vaccination campaign against polio and measles was under  way, but that if Israeli attacks did not halt soon, epidemics could spread, especially in the south and among displaced people.

“We mostly fear for the south and the displaced people in the schools which are meant for students and are not equipped for so many people to live there,” he said.

“We are concerned that poor sanitary conditions would help spread diseases,” he said.

On Friday, UN spokesman in Lebanon Khaled Mansour expressed concern that “the lack of fuel will bring this country to a grinding halt, and I am talking about days, not weeks.” Paul Sherlock, a New York-based senior adviser for emergencies on water and sanitation in the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), also told AFP that “fuel is extremely important for hospitals and homes.” He said the situation in southern Lebanon was getting “desperate” as severe shortages of drinking water and fuel threatened the outbreak of epidemics if Israel kept up attacks on the country.

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