Red Cross issues Lebanon warning

The head of the International Red Cross has warned both the Israeli army and Hezbollah that they have a duty under international law to protect civilians.
The urgency with which refugees are returning to south Lebanon after a ceasefire has surprised aid agencies.

But the ICRC’s Jakob Kellenberger said that civilians were again paying the price of conflict.

“The situation in the region remains extremely difficult despite these positive developments,” he said.

Some 10,000 refugees returned to Lebanon from Syria in the first eight hours of the truce which began at 0500 GMT on Monday, according to a Syrian estimate quoted by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

“They were straight out of the starting blocks on this one,” said UNHCR spokesman Jack Redden at the border.

“We were getting people that had left before the cease-fire so that they would be first across the border as it started. There are people that left at dawn from Damascus to get across.”

But as traffic jams brought new chaos to the bomb-damaged roads, the spokesman said he expected most of the 180,000 Lebanese who sought shelter in Syria would wait to see if the truce worked.

Relief task

Mr Kellenberger said the humanitarian needs in Lebanon remained urgent despite the beginning of the truce.

During a visit to Lebanon, he had had to walk into the southern city of Tyre because the roads and bridges had been bombed.

“It cannot be underlined enough – the civilian population has to be respected,” he said.

“All the rules applicable to the protection of the civilian population remain extremely important and it remains extremely important to insist on the respect of these rules.”

The Red Cross says it plans to assist 200,000 displaced people in Lebanon at least until the end of the year, and to provide water and sanitation for up to 1m people.

Mr Kellenberger also said he had asked Hezbollah directly for permission to visit the two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the conflict.

The answer so far, however, has been “No”, says the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.

Dangers remain

United Nations officials say that with a ceasefire in place in Lebanon, they will no longer comply with what they describe as the lengthy and complicated process of obtaining clearance from Israel to deliver humanitarian aid.

David Shearer, the UN coordinator in Lebanon, said there could no longer be “no-go areas” in the country.

“We’re launching a massive relief effort to try and bring supplies and equipment and the things that we need to help support those people as they go south,” he said.

Aid groups have complained that Israel’s ban on road traffic in southern Lebanon is impeding efforts to get supplies to the area, he added.

Mr Shearer said southern Lebanon would remain dangerous for some time to come because of unexploded shells and cluster bombs.

According to the AFP news agency, two civilians were killed in separate villages in south Lebanon on Monday by cluster bombs, which go off when touched or moved.

The World Food Programme has sent two convoys to the city of Tyre and the Red Cross is distributing supplies which it brought into Tyre by ship.

Though the delivery of supplies has been slow, aid workers have managed for the first time to reach many villages on the border with Israel.

Sweden is to host an international aid conference to raise funds for Lebanon at the end of August in Stockholm.

BBC

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