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Relief Agencies Struggle with Aid Distribution in Lebanon


Shipments of humanitarian aid are reaching the south Lebanese port city of Tyre, but aid agencies say they are still having trouble getting the relief supplies to areas where they are most needed.

A large Red Cross ship is unloading pallets of relief supplies at the port in Tyre. The group hopes it will help alleviate a growing humanitarian crisis in the south.

For the first two weeks of the Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah militants, aid shipments like this one could not get to Tyre. Now, the Red Cross and the United Nations are able to get supplies here by ship and by road, but aid agencies are still having trouble moving the aid to the surrounding villages, to the people who need it most urgently.

Even when the airstrikes were stopped for two days, each road convoy needed Israeli military permission to move or it risked becoming a target. Now, with the aerial bombardment started up again and the ground campaign intensifying, getting help to people is likely to become even more difficult.

The World Food Program says it now has permission to send two tanker ships full of badly needed fuel to Beirut and the northern port at Tripoli.

Some Lebanese people say despite the good intentions of the international community, humanitarian aid is not what the country needs most. Tyre resident Jamal Halaby shook his head as he watched the shipment unloaded at the port.

"He is telling us that 'All this relief, all this food aid and blankets - it's summertime! We do not need blankets! We do not need their food," he said. "They can take all this back. What we want is an immediate cease-fire. This is what will help. This [the aid] does not help.'"

The reason for his cynicism is on display across town, where civil defense officers and the Lebanese army are placing still more bodies in rough-hewn wooden coffins for temporary burial in the city's third mass grave.

Wearing latex gloves and surgical masks to ward off the stench of rotting flesh, the men lift the corpses by the plastic sheets they are wrapped in, and heave them into the long wooden boxes before nailing the lids in place.

But the last corpse proves to be a problem. The body has been sitting in the heat for so long that it has swollen up too big to fit into any of the hurriedly-made coffins. A bloody piece of white cloth covers the dead man's face as the soldiers debate what to do about it.

Three weeks after the conflict erupted, the death toll in Lebanon is known to be at least 540. The real casualty figure is thought to be much higher, since many bodies are believed to be trapped underneath the rubble of ruined buildings. It will take bulldozers or other heavy machinery to dig them out.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the military offensive will continue until Hezbollah's infrastructure has been "wiped out."

With Israel widening its ground offensive, and with aerial bombardment resumed, Hezbollah vows to keep fighting. It has continued to launch rockets into northern Israel, including what the group claims is a new type of rocket with a range of up to 70 kilometers.

The public relations chief for the State Department-designated terrorist organization, Sheik Ahmed Mourad, evaded reporters' questions about how many Hezbollah fighters there are in the south fighting the Israeli invasion.

"This issue only the leaders of the resistance know," said Mourad.

The group is extremely sensitive about discussing its own casualty figures or arsenal. Sheik Mourad would say only that everywhere Israeli troops have crossed the border, they have met with resistance from Hezbollah.

"Even the Israelis say, 'We are fighting ghosts,'" he said.

Hopes for an internationally-mediated ceasefire are fading here, at least in the short term.