Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mortars hit Lebanon evacuation convoy. 29/07/2006. ABC News Online

ABC News Online
Mortars hit Lebanon evacuation convoy

By Peter Cave and wires

A rescue convoy bringing civilians from a village near the Lebanon-Israel border has come under fire from Israeli forces.

A cameraman for a German network and his driver were lightly injured and their car destroyed when it was struck by two mortar rounds.

The privately-organised convoy consisted of two buses, an ambulance and up to 40 cars including a number of media vehicles.

The Seven Network's Adrian Brown, who was travelling with the group, says two mortars struck the German vehicle in the centre of the convoy.

He says the convoy had collected about 50 people from Ramesh but had been unable to get to about 20 Australians trapped beyond the village.

The Australian embassy in Beirut had liaised with the Israeli Defence Forces to make them aware of the humanitarian convoy and its position.

The incident comes as the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah enters its 17th day.

United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland has asked for a 72-hour pause in the fighting to enable relief workers to evacuate the elderly, the young and the wounded from southern Lebanon.

The pause also would enable aid agencies to bring in needed medical supplies as well as food and other emergency supplies for the hundreds of thousands driven from their homes by the fighting.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a war where there are more dead children than armed men,"
Mr Egeland said after briefing the 15-nation UN Security Council on his to the area.

"It has to stop. There has been too much suffering in southern Lebanon, in Israel and in Gaza, which is becoming the forgotten conflict in the Middle East."


At least 10 people have been killed in Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon overnight.

The deaths take the toll for the conflict to at least 430 Lebanese, including 359 civilians, since Israel's offensive began on July 12.

A total of 51 Israelis have died in the conflict, including 18 civilians.

The Israeli air force has today carried out more than 27 raids at dawn in areas to the east of the port city of Tyre, which have also been hit by some 300 shells fired by Israeli artillery.

Hezbollah has fired scores of rockets into Israel, including at least one that the Lebanese guerrilla group says is a new long-range missile, wounding at least six people.

The longer-range rocket landed in an open area near the town of Afula, about 50 kilometres the Lebanese border.

It matches the furthest distance that Hezbollah rockets have landed inside Israel since the conflict began.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has invited countries interested in participating in an international force for Lebanon to gather in New York on Monday to begin planning.

"The time has come for us to really be action-oriented and [seek] concrete steps that can be taken to help the protagonists and the civilians who are caught in the middle" of the fighting," Mr Annan said.

He says governments are also discussing a possible meeting of the UN Security Council at the ministerial level next week to begin work on a resolution addressing the fighting.

"There has been talk about it," Mr Annan said.

"But I don't think any date or time has been fixed yet."

While many potential troop-contributing countries have been invited, UN officials have declined to identify them.

Although the US has ruled out offering troops, it will be represented by Nicholas Burns, the number three State Department official, diplomatic sources say.

"We believe strongly that there is broad international interest in doing this and that certainly there will be sufficient numbers of contributions available to make that force be a viable, robust force," US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Mr Casey says mission could be authorised by the Security Council but will not necessarily be a blue-hatted UN force.

"The decisions are yet to come as to whether it wears a blue helmet, whether it wears a NATO flag, whether it wears some other kind of multinational force emblem on it," he said.

"The thing that it is important is that we get the right troops in place as quickly as possible to do the job."

- ABC/Reuters

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