MSF to defy Israeli ban on vehicles in south

BEIRUT (AFP) — The medical relief organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced Thursday that it would defy an Israeli threat to bomb any vehicle moving south of Lebanon’s Litani River, an area that includes the port city of Tyre.

“To forbid all forms of movement, without distinction, will lead to even more civilian deaths and suffering,” said Rowan Gillies, MSF’s international president.

“We refuse to accept this paralysis of humanitarian assistance and will continue to assist those in need,” he said.

The Israeli military dropped leaflets Tuesday warning it would strike any vehicle, “whatever its nature”, travelling south of the Litani River on suspicion of transporting weapons.

A World Food Programme spokeswoman in Geneva said later that the United Nations had been informed the ban did not apply to its relief convoys.

But the UN agency ,nonetheless, cancelled attempts to send convoys to south Lebanon because of security concerns.

And on Monday, two MSF convoys travelling in different areas of the south were nearly hit by artillery or air strikes, the relief group said.

Israeli and Lebanese authorities had been informed of the vehicles’ movements and the convoys were clearly identifiable from the air and the ground, it added.

Tyre has been cut off from the rest of Lebanon since Monday when Israeli bombardments destroyed a makeshift bridge that was the last crossing over the Litani River into the area.

“Basic necessities are certainly running out in Tyre,” Gillies told a Beirut news conference. “Food is running out. Fuel is running out,” he said.

The group’s south Lebanon coordinator Christopher Stokes said no one should imagine the region had entirely emptied of inhabitants in the face of the Israeli onslaught.

“These so-called ghost towns still host civilians,” he said.

A dire fuel shortage is also proving catastrophic for the south, as hospitals which are doubling up as refuges for some of the nearly one million people displaced by the fighting are quickly running out of resources.

One hospital in Tyre which is still functioning and has been hosting internally displaced people has only 48 hours worth of supplies. “Al Najem Hospital is running out of fuel. Diesel is impossible to get and you can’t run an operating theatre without them,” said Gillies.

MSF has had to bring its own shipments of fuel into Lebanon, to keep their operations going “as long as possible.” “It’s unusual for us to try to get fuel to people. But we need to do it because there’s no other way,” said Gillies.

The monthlong Israeli pounding of Lebanon since Hizbollah fighters captured two soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid on July 12 has created a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation particularly in the south.

A sea blockade has cut off the country’s fuel supplies and damage to infrastructure has blocked access to the most vulnerable areas.

MSF said it was currently providing medical assistance and distributing relief goods around Lebanon, including in Tyre and the main southern city of Sidon.

The Israeli Security Cabinet gave its approval Wednesday for a broader ground offensive although commanders said they were delaying the start to give more time for diplomacy.

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