Aid Groups Struggle to Reach Lebanese in Need Israeli bombing of suspected Hezbollah targets has devastated many areas of Lebanon, and international aid groups trying to ferry supplies to those in need must contend with roads made impassible by Israeli airstrikes and continued bombing near civilian areas.
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Aid Groups Struggle to Reach Lebanese in Need

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Aid Groups Struggle to Reach Lebanese in Need

Aid Groups Struggle to Reach Lebanese in Need

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Israel has issued warnings that it may attack any vehicle moving in southern Lebanon. That stops relief operations for Lebanese civilians throughout the region.

David Holdridge is Middle East director for one of the humanitarian groups that is trying to help. It's called Mercy Corps. He's in Beirut now, but he made a recent trip into southern Lebanon.

Mr. Holdridge, didn't you negotiate with Israeli officials for safe passage of your trucks and your supply convoys? That is, they knew that you were coming down certain roads and things so they wouldn't bomb you. At least that's how it was supposed to work. Isn't that correct?

Mr. DAVID HOLDRIDGE (Middle East Director, Mercy Corps): They don't tell us yes. That has never happened. I mean, that's a sort of arrangement that only two organizations have and that's the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

With an NGO like Mercy Corps, they listen and then they say no. They do not advise it and no, they cannot guarantee our safety. But they do listen. And they do take the route.

And we are clearly marked as a humanitarian convoy. And we do have government of Lebanon police vehicle in the front. And sometimes, frankly, when we can get it, we have media with us because that adds to our protection, as well.

CHADWICK: How much are you in agencies and the International Red Cross still able to get through?

Mr. HOLDRIDGE: Well, the 19-truck convoy that was headed towards Tyre when our convoy got stopped in the same place by the bombing of the bridge on the Litani, that never went further south.

Now, there are other ways. I mean, you can go inland, through back roads, and you can eventually creep down there. But I can't imagine that that's going to be - virtually any humanitarian organization is going to take that risk.

CHADWICK: If the Red Cross of the U.N. can negotiate passage for convoys, how about going in by sea? That is, Tyre is a big port, and there's a whole coast along there. Couldn't you get aid in that way?

Mr. HOLDRIDGE: Well, I mean, if you can negotiate that, yes, you could bring it to your end. The problem is you can bring that in and you may be able to do some distributions inside Tyre, but not if there's no vehicle movement inside the town.

Our area, or the area where we've worked for 15 years, is inland. It's from the coast. And that's where you get a lot of these isolated villages. And there's no access to those folks.

CHADWICK: Could you go in through Israel? That is, could you say to the Israeli's, how about if we just bring in some trucks from Northern Israel and just go up behind your lines and try to reach these civilian populations.

Mr. HOLDRIDGE: That's not something that I would consider at this time. You know, coming behind an army battalion, moving up into that area where there's active fighting going on.

It's just not something I would do.

CHADWICK: And how about air drops? Not possible?

Mr. HOLDRIDGE: Well, the skies are basically totally controlled, of course, by the Israeli Air Force. But it's a big difference about getting permission to come in from the sea, not over the land that's basically where the fighting's going on and getting access for other aircraft to come into that area where the war's going on.

I think for all intents and purposes, south of Litani River to the Israeli border, it's basically shut down.

CHADWICK: Well, so what is the situation for you, Mr. Holdridge? What are you going to do? Do you have any options at this point?

Mr. HOLDRIDGE: As far as getting down to where the need is the greatest, we just keep probing, but we're not going south of the Litani under the current situation. So we go up to those towns that are just north of us.

And where the people from the far south, those that brave that trip are congregating. So we'll go there and - unless that gets swept up in the war in the south - and then we'll just have to retreat back north. I mean we just go as far as we can where there's a reasonable certainty that the nature of our mission will be respected and that our drivers and myself will stay safe.

CHADWICK: David Holdridge. Middle East Director for Mercy Corp. Mr. Holdridge, thank you.

Mr. HOLDRIDGE: Thank you.

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