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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

U.N. Shifts Focus from Politics to Humanitarian Aid

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 25 July, (IPS): The United Nations is trying to help resolve the Lebanese crisis on two fronts: political and humanitarian.

On the political front, the 15-member U.N. Security Council is grounded because it has failed to pronounce itself on the non-stop aerial bombing of civilians by the Israeli air force and the continuous barrage of rocket fire by Hezbollah.

With the veto-wielding United States throwing its protective arm around Israel, the hands of the remaining 14 members have been tied, primarily because of the unyielding stand taken by Washington.

"You cannot disarm Hezbollah by force alone," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday, expressing a view anathema both to the United States and Israel.

"There has to be a political agreement and a political understanding." He also said he expects Iran and Syria to be "part of the solution." But neither the United States nor Israel are willing to talk to either of the two countries deemed supporters of Hezbollah.

On the humanitarian front, the United Nations and its relief agencies remain outraged over the destruction of lives and infrastructure in Lebanon, in what Annan calls a grossly disproportionate use of military force.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) Monday accused the Israelis of using artillery-fired cluster munitions in populated areas of Lebanon.

"Cluster munitions are unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons when used around civilians," Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW warned. "They should never be used in populated areas."

"In my view," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told reporters Monday, "when one-third of the wounded and killed reportedly are children and women, then this goes far beyond responding to those armed groups (Hezbollah) and what they are doing against the civilian population in Israel."

He also said that, "It is wrong, according to international law, to have a disproportionate attack against civilian populations, as is now happening in Lebanon."

But despite these misgivings, the United Nations hopes to make progress in its appeal for more than 150 million dollars in emergency funds to provide food and shelter to the more than half a million people directly affected, either because they are refugees or internally displaced.

"We are begging the international community to give us sufficient resources so that we can give enough medical relief, enough shelter material, enough food, enough water and sanitation services to those hundreds and thousands of Lebanese civilians that have had to flee," Egeland told reporters at the Lanarca airport in Cyprus, on his way to Beirut.

The world body has also appealed to the warring parties to create "humanitarian corridors" providing safe passage to relief workers.

"At the moment we are not able to get relief into the country in any quantities, and even more importantly, we are not able to distribute it beyond a few points which we can reach at the moment," he said.

Ann Veneman, executive director of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, said her organization was making an appeal for 23.8 million dollars -- as part of the overall 150 million dollars -- purely to support children caught in the crisis.

"Many of those who have been uprooted in the violence are children," she said. "They may have witnessed the death or injury of loved ones and many are suffering acute distress."

The 12-day bombing has resulted in the deaths of more than 360 Lebanese and about 37 Israelis.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), said that "the plight of the displaced in Lebanon is growing more difficult by the hour, and it's crucial that we get the humanitarian pipeline flowing now."

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), has requested 6.2 million dollars from international donors to meet the urgent humanitarian concerns of the war-affected population.

"Urgent action is needed to protect the health and well-being of women, children and other innocent civilians," said Obaid. "The widespread destruction of public infrastructure and services is dangerous for everyone, but especially for pregnant women, the injured and others who may need medical care to survive."

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a San Francisco-based policy think tank that closely monitors humanitarian emergencies, said the international community -- especially the "diplomatic community" -- should be appalled that while it watches silently, a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions has been created and continues to grow.

"What we are witnessing is a man-made creation -- a collective form of punishment being inflicted on the people of Lebanon while international rules of diplomacy and the United Nations are sidelined," Mittal told IPS.

She said that Israel must heed the many calls to restrain itself and allow full and immediate access to relief efforts.

"This crisis is based on the fact that the international community has failed to recognize that the right to defend itself is absolutely distinct from the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians," she added.

Mittal said that food prices have increased by almost 400 percent in Beirut and 50 percent in other urban areas as delivery of food becomes impossible.

Hospitals and medical centres, flooded with the injured, require fresh medical and food supplies. Reports from the U.N. refugee agency says conditions for those seeking refuge in the mountain areas north of Beirut are precarious, with a safe delivery route for relief needed urgently, she added.

While the U.S. media reports focus on Iran and Syria's support of Hezbollah and their supply of weapons and rockets to them, Mittal pointed out, U.S. military aid to Israel has turned into weapons of mass destruction in Lebanon.

"Indiscriminate bombing of homes, ports, highways, energy plants, water treatment facilities, and communication networks has lead to complex humanitarian, housing, and public health disaster," she added.

The protection of civilians during conflict is an obligation under international humanitarian law, Mittal said.

"But so far we have not seen any respect for the international human rights regulations or the humanitarian law," she added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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