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Helping the Lebanese

Scott Jagow Aug 15, 2006


SCOTT JAGOW: The ceasefire in Lebanon has held for 30 hours now. People are turning their attention to aid. Today at the Port of Beirut, relief workers loaded thousands of boxes of supplies onto trucks. Those trucks will be shipped to southern Lebanon. Many Lebanese have been trapped there, cut off from help by the weeks of fighting. Joining us from Beirut is reporter Ben Gilbert. Ben, what are the major needs the aid agencies are trying to fill?

BEN GILBERT: Well there’s two different kinds of needs. The people who’ve been trapped in the south, they’re going to have a lot of needs in terms of medical supplies, food, water. The hospitals are out of fuel. Now the second group of people are the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who fled the fighting who are returning back to the south and who don’t know if their homes or even if their villages still exist. So these people might need bedding, they might need toothbrushes, towels, they might need tents, coverage to keep them away from the hot sun.

JAGOW: And what are the obstacles in the way of those aid agencies getting the job done?

GILBERT: Well the biggest obstacle right now is you have 700,000 people who had fled the south and now they’re all returning it seems like. At least yesterday in Beirut there were people driving around with mattresses on top of their cars, whole families packed into old, beat-up Mercedes traveling south. Now thousands of these people have clogged up the few remaining roads that exist in the south. There’s been bridges knocked out, there’s craters in the roads, the one road that is passable across the Litani River, which is kind of the border of south Lebanon, the UN has reconstructed the bridge there but it’s just dirt and rocks essentially across the river, so it’s essentially one lane and when I was there 10 days ago, it was essentially a dirt road through a banana plantation. So you can imagine the kind of gridlock that these convoys are encountering as they try to get south and bring aid to these people who have been stranded down there.

JAGOW: Even though we have this ceasefire, is there still the possibility that this aid effort could be disrupted by continued fighting?

GILBERT: That’s always a possibility. Many people here are somewhat pessimistic about the future given their history with the 15-year civil war and numerous broken ceasefires in the past. However the ceasefire over the past 24 hours seems to have held tight. Israelis have ceased bombing infrastructure that’s important to getting humanitarian supplies like bridges and roads so it at least gives the aid agencies access to the south to get aid and supplies to these people.

JAGOW: OK Ben thanks a lot.

GILBERT: OK thank you.

JAGOW: Ben Gilbert reporting from Beirut. The ceasefire in Lebanon is still driving down the price of oil. Today it fell below $73 a barrel.

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