August 4, 2006

Bridge bombing paralyses Lebanon aid pipeline

By Michael Winfrey

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israel's overnight bombing of highway
bridges in northern Lebanon and strikes at a Hizbollah
stronghold in south Beirut paralyzed aid convoys on Friday and
relief workers warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Israeli jets destroyed three bridges on the main coastal
highway linking Beirut to Syria, stalling an eight-truck convoy
carrying food, shelter material and other aid to the estimated
900,000 Lebanese displaced by the three-week-old war.

Astrid van Genderen Stort, senior information officer for
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the bombing had
shut down the major relief pipeline for supplies traveling to
the hardest-hit areas in the south.

The bridge at Maameltein, just north of Beirut, was split
along its center by a huge crater which partially engulfed the
crushed shell of a minivan. Further north another lay stretched
out in the valley it once spanned.

"The whole road is gone," van Genderen Stort said. "It's
really a major setback because we used this highway to move
staff and supplies into the country. If we don't have new
material coming in, we will basically be paralyzed."

The UNHCR was also forced to postpone trips around Beirut
to assess the needs and deliver aid to up to 400,000 people
living with host families or in schools and parks in the area.

The U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) called off planned
convoys southwards to the port city of Tyre and Rashidiyeh
after bombing in a southern Beirut suburb prevented drivers
from reaching the convoys' launch point.

A third planned convoy carrying food, water and sanitary
supplies to the city of Jezzine departed as planned but
humanitarian workers said lack of access to hoards of refugees
was deepening the humanitarian crisis.

"There's no doubt whatsoever that anything which reduces or
slows down our ability to supply humanitarian aid where it is
needed most exacerbates the situation," said WFP spokesman
Robin Lodge.

U.N. agencies also warned a looming fuel shortage could
bring electrical power plants, hospitals and water pumping
stations to a halt in the coming days, threatening already poor
sanitation among thousands living in crowded conditions and
raising the risk of epidemics.

Israel has given the go-ahead for two tankers to pass
through its naval blockade, but the owners of the ships feel
the Jewish state's "security concurrence" is not strong enough
as a safety guarantee.