Lebanon truce opens way to aid, returning refugees


  • World
  • Monday, 14 Aug 2006

By Michael Winfrey

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Aid began flowing into south Lebanon on Monday hours after a U.N.-brokered ceasefire came into effect to end a conflict that killed over 1,200 people and drove almost one million from their homes. 

The U.N.'s World Food Programme sent 24 trucks of food, medicine and shelter material to the southern port of Tyre and other aid groups prepared to help tens of thousands of refugees expected to head south in the next few days. 

A Lebanese Shiite Muslim cries as she returns to her home, which was destroyed in an Israeli air raid on Sunday, in Beirut's southern suburbs August 14, 2006. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

"We're now nearly two hours into the ceasefire. We have no reports of any incidents so we are cautiously optimistic," said WFP spokesman Robin Lodge. 

The Israeli army said it would maintain a ban on unauthorised traffic south of the Litani river to prevent movement of Hizbollah gunmen and that anyone found on the road risked attack. 

It also said it would not lift an air and sea blockade on Lebanon, but the WFP said the ceasefire meant aid would now be allowed to flow freely by land and sea. 

"With the ceasefire in place, there can no longer be any no-go areas in Lebanon," said David Shearer, U.N. Humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon. 

OPENING ROADS 

The WFP said it would soon send food, shelter material and other supplies south by ship and set up a base at Tyre, which was cut off from the north a week ago when Israel bombed the last main bridge over the narrow, rocky Litani. 

It said U.N. peacekeepers were rebuilding the crossing and Lebanese security forces were clearing roads to swiftly bring aid to the 100,000 people believed trapped south of the river. 

Relief agency Mercy Corps said it was preparing to send food in bulk -- bags of rice, flour and tinned goods -- to Nabatiyeh, just north of the Litani, in anticipation of a huge influx of returnees. 

"If they do return they are going to need a significant increase in food stocks," said Mercy Corps senior information officer Cassandra Nelson. 

The UNHCR refugee agency believes around a third of the 750,000 displaced who have taken shelter with host families and in schools and public buildings in northern Lebanon will return within days if the ceasefire holds. 

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