BEIRUT, Lebanon – Humanitarian aid arrived by sea and by air but was piling up in Beirut on Saturday. Aid groups said safety concerns prevented all but a trickle from reaching areas of south Lebanon where tens of thousands were reported stranded with supplies of medicine, food, water and fuel dwindling.
Israeli airstrikes hit within hundreds of meters of the few truck convoys making their way south this week — though no trucks have been hit so far — said officials from the international Red Cross, U.N. and other agencies. Israel has promised safe passage for aid, but it's done on a convoy-by-convoy basis, and often 72-hour notice is required, slowing the process considerably, the officials said.
"There is always a risk when we go (to the south). We're never 100 percent sure that we won't be hit," said Hisham Hassan, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Israel on Saturday rejected a request by the U.N. for a three-day cease-fire to get in supplies and allow civilians to leave the war zone.
Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman, blamed Hezbollah guerrillas for blocking convoys, saying they are "deliberately preventing the transfer of medical aid and of food ....to create a humanitarian crisis, which they want to blame Israel for," he said.
The top U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, Mona Hammam, said convoys so far had met "no problems" from Hezbollah.
When the U.N.'s first aid convoy reached the southern port city of Tyre on Wednesday, residents there said some 30,000 refugees had fled the overloaded city to the nearby village of Rmeish, where they were stuck without food or water, Hammam said. The U.N. planned to send a convoy to Rmeish and Tibnin on Monday, she said.
But logistics were proving difficult. The U.N. had hoped to send a convoy of 5 trucks to Marjayoun on Saturday, but permission was denied.
"We're trying to be as ambitious as possible, but sometimes it's not always convenient (for the warring parties), shall we say," Hammam said. The convoy to Marjayoun would leave Sunday, she added.
The U.N. has sent two convoys south since Wednesday, to Tyre and Sidon. U.N. officials hoped to shuttle aid to Bint Jbail, the site of a 6-day battle still being waged between Israeli ground troops and Hezbollah guerrillas, on Tuesday.
Such aid convoys carry tons of medicine, food, blankets, diapers and personal hygiene items, Hammam said.
Meanwhile, aid flowed steadily into Beirut, with the first full boatload of supplies from the Red Cross arriving from Cyprus Saturday afternoon. The ferry delivered to Beirut's port more than 7,000 blankets, 4,000 sleeping mats, 1,500 cooking sets and 50,000 food ration packets, which each include meals for 1 week, Hassan said. The load also included eight 25-meter square tents, to house refugees that have been sleeping outdoors for as many as 18 days, since fighting began.
A U.S. Navy high-speed HSV-2 catamaran arrived at Beirut port from Cyprus bringing 20,000 blankets, 1,000 tarpaulins, large medical kits and other materials for immediate distribution, a spokeswoman for the international aid organization Mercy Corps told The Associated Press by phone.
Cassandra Nelson said the materials would be sent to the mountainous Chouf area east of Beirut, where the group was assisting refugees. More help was expected to arrive later and the group hopes to send it to southern Lebanon, she said.
Egyptian and a Jordanian military transport planes also arrived at Beirut airport with medicine, food and medical teams, while a third plane brought 40 tons of food and medical supplies from the United Arab Emirates.
A telethon in Dubai has raised $13.4 million to help the Lebanese people during the current crisis. The 10-hour event, held on four Dubai-owned television stations ending late Friday, hosted several Arab actors and singers, who urged the public to donate.
Queen Rania of Jordan also made an appearance, addressing the Lebanese. "Your children are our children; your wounds are our wounds; your house is our house. Let's work together to take the child back to his school, the farmer to his farm and the family back to its home," she said.
The Egyptian C-130 aircraft was carrying 15 tons of food and medicine, and a medical team to set up a field hospital, an official from its embassy in Beirut told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give statements to the press.
On Saturday, Jordan sent its seventh plane carrying relief aid to the Lebanese capital, its official Petra news agency reported.
Aid began arriving July 23 by sea in Beirut, after Israel destroyed the runways at the airport in the capital during the first days of fighting. Repairs to a single runway enabled relief flights to start entering the country on Thursday.
U.N. humanitarian chief Egeland on a visit to the Lebanese capital called for $150 million in relief aid. He estimated that more than 800,000 Lebanese had fled or were caught in crossfire.