Monday, July 31, 2006

Reuters AlertNet - WFP says Israel refused OK for Lebanon aid convoy

(Includes plan for Qana convoy on Monday)

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME, July 30 (Reuters) - The U.N. food agency said it cancelled an aid convoy to southern Lebanon on Sunday because it did not have Israeli authorisation, but hoped on Monday to reach the village of Qana, where an air raid killed 54 people.

"We are hoping to get the green light to go to Qana tomorrow," said Brenda Barton, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome, after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered that humanitarian be allowed to reach the village.

She said a second convoy to the southern Lebanese port of Tyre was also planned on Monday.

Earlier, the WFP said it had been forced to scrap a six-truck convoy of medicines, flour, canned meat and vegetable oil to the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun on Sunday after Israeli forces declined to give their consent.

"We are extremely disappointed, and indeed frustrated, that we have been unable to go ahead with this convoy. There are tens of thousands of people in the south who are in desperate need of assistance. Obviously this is a setback," Amer Daoudi, WFP emergency coordinator for Lebanon, said in a statement.

"The decision was in accordance with established security procedures in Lebanon, under which WFP requires concurrence from all parties involved in the conflict for humanitarian aid convoy movements. This is the first time that such concurrence has not been forthcoming," the statement said.

Aid workers have complained they are finding it impossible to get medical supplies and food safely to isolated villages in southern Lebanon because of the Israeli bombardment.

Olmert ordered on Sunday that aid workers be allowed to reach Qana after an Israeli air strike there killed at least 54 civilians, including 37 children. He expressed "deep sorrow" at the bombing.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland on Friday asked for a 72-hour pause in the fighting to facilitate aid efforts, but Israel has so far rejected the call, saying it was not blocking aid from reaching southern Lebanon.

The WFP, which is responsible for transporting all aid for U.N. agencies and much of the humanitarian community throughout Lebanon, said another relief convoy was scheduled for Sunday from Aarida -- the only border crossing remaining open to traffic between Lebanon and Syria -- to Beirut.

It said that from Monday it was planning to send at least two convoys a day to southern Lebanon, which has borne the brunt of the bombardment since the conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas started 19 days ago.

The U.N. estimates that at least 800,000 people, more than one-fifth of Lebanon's entire population, have been displaced by the violence.

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