U.N. exec blames Hezbollah for deaths, by Lauren Frayer, Associated Press Writer, 7.24.06

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The U.N. humanitarian chief accused Hezbollah on Monday of “cowardly blending” in among Lebanese civilians and causing the deaths of hundreds during two weeks of cross-border violence with Israel.

The militant group has built bunkers and tunnels near the Israeli border to shelter weapons and fighters, and its members easily blend in among civilians.

Jan Egeland spoke to reporters at Larnaca airport in Cyprus late Monday after visiting Lebanon to coordinate an international aid effort. On Sunday, he toured the rubble of Beirut’s southern suburbs, a once-teeming Shiite district where Hezbollah had its headquarters.

During that visit, he condemned the killing and wounding of civilians by both sides and called Israel’s offensive “disproportionate” and “a violation of international humanitarian law.”

On Monday, he had strong words for Hezbollah, which crossed into Israel, captured two soldiers and killed eight others on July 12, triggering fierce fighting.

“Consistently, from the Hezbollah heartland, my message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending… among women and children,” he said. “I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this. I don’t think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men.”

“We need a cessation of hostilities because this is a war where civilians are paying the price,” said Egeland, who was heading to Israel next.

At least 600,000 Lebanese have fled their homes, according to the World Health Organization. One estimate by Lebanon’s finance minister putting the number at 750,000, nearly 20 percent of the population.

During his visit to Lebanon earlier Monday, Egeland issued an emergency appeal for $150 million to help Lebanon through the next three months. He told reporters in Beirut the money was needed to pay for food, health care, water and sanitation.

“Approximately 500,000 to 800,000 people have been affected by the conflict, of whom some have become displaced persons or refugees,” a U.N. statement said.

The United Nations has contracted 100 trucks to deliver aid coming into Beirut around the country. Egeland said the U.N. hoped to send its first land convoy to Tyre on Wednesday. Similar convoys will be scheduled every second day after that. An international Red Cross convoy was expected in the city Monday.

Egeland said he was asking Israel for safe passage for aid ships to enter the northern port of Tripoli and the southern port of Tyre, which has been heavily bombarded. So far, Israel has loosened its sea blockade of Lebanon only to let ships in Beirut port.

“We’re hopeful that in the course of this week, you’ll see real progress on the ground. Lebanon has a right to be frustrated,” he said.

He said the U.N. was also asking Israel to also guarantee safe passage throughout Lebanon.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have flowed out of mainly Shiite regions – the south, the Bekaa and the crowded Shiite neighborhood of Beirut – crowding into cities including the southern port of Sidon, the remainder of Beirut and parts of the north and central mountains.

“We are particularly worried about the population in south Lebanon and the (eastern) Bekaa Valley. It’s here that they’re in the crossfire and from where they’re being displaced,” Egeland said.

Continued Israeli bombardment makes the aid mission risky.

“Only cessation of hostilities can make it safe for us and our humanitarian colleagues,” Egeland said.

U.N. exec blames Hezbollah for deaths, by Lauren Frayer, Associated Press Writer, 7.24.06

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