BEIRUT â€” Hospitals were running out of food, fuel and other supplies in southern Lebanon on Thursday and aid groups said fighting and a ban on movement meant they could not reach thousands trapped in the area.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that since an Israeli air strike destroyed the last coastal river crossing for trucks to the south on Monday, aid agencies had been reduced to carrying supplies by hand over a log across the Litani River.
It said Israel’s warning that it might attack any vehicle south of the Litani that was not part of an aid convoy with Israeli clearance significantly undermined the chances of the tens of thousands of people still believed to be trapped in the region.
“The people in the south are afraid. They are terrified to move,” Rowan Gillies, president of MSF International, said in Beirut. “To forbid all forms of movement, without distinction, will lead to even more civilian deaths and suffering.” MSF said it had suffered close calls with shelling and air strikes close to two of its convoys earlier this week. On Monday, warplanes attacked two cars travelling near a UN Nations convoy, killing three people.
Israel has drawn international criticism for attacking targets in populated civilian areas. At least 1,011 people have been killed in Lebanon during the four-week-old conflict with Hizbollah fighters.
Israel, which has lost 116 dead, mostly soldiers, says air attacks and ground operations are the only way to stop the Shiite group, which sparked the conflict when it captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
The United Nations World Food Programme said it sent a 15-truck convoy to the eastern town of Baalbek but was still waiting for two planes carrying about 10 tonnes of supplies each which had been delayed since Tuesday.
The agency was also trying to send a 10-truck convoy to the battered town of Nabatiyeh in the south, but had not received security guarantees.
“We had hoped to get down to Nabatiyeh today, but were denied clearance,” WFP spokesman, Robin Lodge, said.
MSF said hospitals were quickly running out of food, medical and other supplies in Tyre and other southern cities. The worst shortage was diesel fuel to run generators.
The shortages coincide with heavy fighting that has brought new wave of casualties to southern hospitals. More than 3,000 people have been wounded in Lebanon so far and the United Nations says up to 900,000 people have been displaced.
“We’re trying to reduce the number of people who have been wounded turning to people who have died,” said Gillies.
“It’s very basic. If we can’t give the local authorities the ability to do that, the consequences for civilians are dire.” The European Union aid chief Louis Michel also said it was vital to restore access to aid in south Lebanon. He said conditions were also worsening in northern Israel after Hizbollah rocket attacks there.
He said he would visit Lebanon and Israel next week for talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Amir Peretz.