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NZZ Online: Explosives hamper return of Lebanese civilians

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NZZ Online: Explosives hamper return of Lebanese civilians

Aid organisations have warned of the risk of unexploded ordinance in southern Lebanon as refugees continue returning home.

The Swiss branch of the non:governmental group, Handicap International, and the foreign ministry's aid agency sent experts in a bid to assess the situation.

"We dispatched several de:mining specialists to the region," said Paul Vermeulen, director of the Geneva:based group said on Thursday.

He added that United Nations experts had identified about ten sites where the Israeli air force used cluster bombs. About 14 per cent of this ordinance has not exploded, killing or injuring at least 16 people, according to Handicap International.

The Swiss foreign ministry's Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) joined in the risk awareness campaign.

SDC said it had sent a Beirut:based medical doctor to southern Lebanon to take part in the World Health Organization's relief operation. Another expert is cooperating with the UN environment agency to clean up an oil slick caused by the bombing of a coastal power plant south of Beirut.


Toni Frisch of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) said the Lebanese authorities were interested in a so:called "Cash:for:Shelter" programme for families who provide a temporary home for displaced people.

An estimated one million people fled their homes after Israel's armed forces launched their five:week offensive against the Iranian:backed Hezbollah militias in July.

Frisch said medical services in southern Lebanon were still insufficient because many hospitals were forced to close down during the military conflict.

The children's charity, Terre des Hommes, and the Protestant church charity support rehabilitation programmes for victims of the conflict and sent two experts to the Lebanese port city of Sidon.

For its part, the Swiss Red Cross announced it had increased its financial contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Lebanese Red Cross to SFr800,000 ($652,000).

The funds are to go towards aid operations in Lebanon as well as in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, according to a Red Cross spokesman.

Meanwhile the Israeli army has eased its air blockade on the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and stepped up its withdrawal from southern Lebanon agreed under a ceasefire agreement with Hezbollah.

Instead a total of up to 30,000 Lebanese troops and UN forces will be stationed in the buffer zone near the Israeli border.

swissinfo with agencies


Turkish Press: Lebanon to receive 'urgent' assistance with massive oil spill

Published: 8/17/2006

PIRAEUS - International experts on Thursday promised Lebanon immediate help in cleaning up a massive Mediterranean oil spill caused by Israeli bombing of a power plant, but said the scale of the environmental threat remained unknown.

Senior officials from the United Nations, the European Union and regional states meeting in the Greek port city of Piraeus unveiled a plan to clean up oil-clogged parts of the Lebanese coastline -- an operation slated to cost over 50 million euros (64 million dollars).

The plan, supervised by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Maritime Organisation, prescribes immediate aerial surveys by helicopter and a concerted effort to clean up to 30 coastal sites in Lebanon.

UNEP and IMO officials said on Thursday that determining the oil spill's exact size and composition is a top priority in order to establish the nature of the threat, as inspection crews had no access to the affected area prior to this week's ceasefire between Israeli forces and the Hezbollah militia.

"To this day, we cannot tell you with any accuracy what amount of oil remains off shore on the sea," United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Achim Steiner told a news conference, after meeting with ministers from Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria and Turkey.

"We have been condemned to work with satellite images and ad hoc observations because access to the area has been impossible in terms of aerial surveys and... (the collection of) water samples," he said.

The UNEP official said it was a matter of "utter urgency" to establish the size of the oil spill and to coordinate equipment, experts and financial support from donors.

Israel was not represented at the meeting, but is in close contact with UNEP on the issue, Steiner said.

"This was not a political meeting, it concerned the countries that are, or could be affected (by the pollution)," Frederic Hebert, director of the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean, told AFP.

As the experts held their meeting in Piraeus, a few dozen volunteers in Beirut -- armed only with shovels and plastic buckets -- struggled to scrape oil-stained sand off a local beach as environmental groups began the monumental task of cleaning up tons of oil spilt along Lebanon's coast.

"We're trying to move as much sand as possible today and tomorrow so we'll know how many days it will take" to clean Ramlet el-Bayda beach, said Nina Jamal of the Lebanese environmental group Green Line.

UNEP estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of fuel oil leaked from an electric plant bombed by Israel last month, polluting some 150 kilometers (93 miles) of the Lebanese coast and spreading north into Syrian waters.

If all the oil from the damaged facility, 30 miles south of Beruit, were to seep into the sea, the environmental fallout could rival the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that devastated Alaska's Prince William Sound, officials have said.

In the absence of reliable information on the Lebanese coast pollution, the clean-up cost has been estimated at 50 million euros for 2006.

The estimate is partly based on the compensation package for the Haven incident, a crude oil spill of over 10,000 tonnes that contaminated the coasts of Liguria and Provence in Italy and France in 1991.

A dozen countries have so far promised Lebanon to donate money, equipment and research expertise, including Algeria, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Norway, Slovenia and Spain.

Syria, which has also seen tar balls wash onto its shores, said it will put its "capabilities at the disposal of the Lebanese government as soon as the circumstances allow."

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has also pledged support with an immediate donation of 200,000 dollars, Steiner said.

Lebanon has identified some 30 areas along its coast affected by the oil spill, including the historical port of Byblos and the Palm Island nature reserve.

"We must act now, and act together... to succeed," IMO Secretary General Efthymios Mitropoulos said, adding that the organisations involved in the effort would make an appeal for further donors.

08/17/2006 17:14 GMT


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