UN observers killed in Lebanon - Wednesday 26 July 2006

Four unarmed United Nations military observers were killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon this week. They were members of UNFIL, the United Nations Force in Lebanon, which has sustained 250 members killed since it was established in 1978. Its role over almost 30 years has been to help contain conflicts and protect the civilian population.Australian Defence Force specialists have been deployed to support the evacuation of Australian nationals from Lebanon. A team of 19 personnel left Sydney on July 20 for Beirut and Cyprus to assist Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff. Two additional evacuee processing teams, a command element, and importantly liaison officers, totaling approximately 65 personnel left on July 21 to support evacuation operations. The ADF deployment includes movements’ officers, health specialists, linguists and evacuee processing teams.

The victims included observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, according to UN and Lebanese military officials

The UK newspaper, The Independent, reported that the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, spoke by phone to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, expressing his "deep regret" and said the peacekeepers were killed mistakenly. He expressed dismay over Mr Annan's accusation that the attack had been “apparently deliberate”.

Mr Annan later called for participants at a Middle East conference to push for an immediate ceasefire to end fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. Hezbollah must stop its "deliberate targeting of Israeli population centres". And Israel must put an end to all bombing, ground operations and blockades of Lebanese ports. Both the US and the UK have rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire.

In a statement in Rome, Mr Annan said: "A key stipulation for such a halt in fighting would be that the parties must not, I repeat, must not take advantage of such a pause to conduct offence operations, redeploy or re-supply." And he added that an international force – in addition to UNFIL - would be vital to keeping peace.

A UN official was reported as saying that since fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants began two weeks ago, there had been several dozen incidents of firing close to UN peacekeepers and observers, including direct hits on nine positions, some of them repeatedly,. So far 12 UN personnel have been killed or injured since the fighting began on July 12.

Last night's bomb made a direct hit on the building and shelter of the observer post in the town of Khiam, near the eastern end of the border with Israel, said Milos Struger, spokesman for UNFIL.

For more information, access UN News Centre

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is positioning more than 500 tonnes of relief supplies along the Syria-Lebanon border but urgently needs assurances of safe passage to deliver the much-needed supplies to tens of thousands of displaced people.

Relief supplies sent so far to Syria include 20,000 mattresses, 20,000 blankets; 5,000 family tents; 5,000 bales of plastic sheeting; 10,000 jerry cans; 5,000 stoves and 5,000 cooking sets. A family tent costs US$ 80. Twenty blankets cost US$ 100.

UNHCR has sent a 19-member Emergency Response Team of humanitarian specialists to add to its staff in Syria and Lebanon.

The UN has launched its appeal for the Lebanon crisis. UNHCR needs US$18.9 million to help 150,000 displaced people in Lebanon and neighbouring countries for an initial period of three months.

For information, go to http://news.supportunhcr.org/cgi-bin2/DM/y/hYzb0Jsscy0FZs0BBNq0EM

To help, please go to http://news.supportunhcr.org/cgi-bin2/DM/y/hYzb0Jsscy0FZs0BA7v0E2

Evacuations

Commenting on his department’s successful efforts to evacuate Australians caught in the Lebanon conflict, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, said on July 25, “… there is a convoy, organised by the United Nations, of foreign nationals making its way up towards Beirut and there may be some Australians in that convoy. If that’s the case, then we’ll obviously be able to get them out during the course of today, but from the end of today we won’t have those ships automatically made available day by day, as we’ve done over the last few days, but clearly in emergency circumstances we’ll be able to take measures to get additional people out – we’ll obviously try our best to do that. And we can of course always go back and charter vessels if the numbers start to grow yet again.”

Health Aid

The World Health Organisation is concerned about access to health care for the people affected by the conflict - including to treatment for the injured, medicines for people who suffer chronic disease, access to water and sanitation, including for those who have been displaced, and the overall health of the most vulnerable: children, pregnant women, people who are chronically ill, the wounded and the elderly.

WHO experts from Beirut and Geneva include Dr. Ala' Din Alwan, Representative of the Director-General, Health Action in Crises, Geneva; Dr Jaouad Mahjour, WHO Representative in Lebanon; and Altaf Musani, WHO Regional Adviser, Emergency and Humanitarian Action, Beirut.

To date, the current conflict has resulted in more than1200 injured and 346 killed. Several hundred thousand people have fled their homes, including to neighbouring Syria. Insecurity in South Lebanon, the destruction of bridges, roads and other infrastructure, and lack of electricity are threatening people's health.

The injured need access to equipped, safe and functioning hospitals. Those who are displaced need access to clean water, sanitation, immunisation and other services. People who are chronically ill, with diabetes or heart disease require continued access to their life-saving medicines. Particularly vulnerable are the wounded, women and children, the elderly and the chronically ill. Access to health care, food, shelter, water and sanitation are all critical lifelines.

The WHO, on behalf of the partners working on health issues, is requesting US$ 32.4 million to serve the health needs of 800,000 people over the next three months. This includes joint actions and activities with partners including UNICEF, UNFPA and UNRWA. For WHO-specific activities, WHO is requesting almost US$ 14 million. This appeal is part of the total United Nations' Flash Appeal for Lebanon, which seeks a total of US$150 million.

WHO is leading the "health cluster"- the coordination body for health action in this crisis, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH). The funds will increase the health cluster support to the MoH in tackling several vital areas of health: For more information, contact:

In Geneva: Fadéla CHAIB, Communications Officer, telephone +41 22 791 3228,
e-mail chaibf@who.int

In Cairo: Ibrahim KERDANY, Communications Officer for the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, telephone: +202 27 65037
e-mail: kerdanyi@emro.who.int

Sacha BOOTSMA, Information and Communications Officer, telephone (+20-10) 182 64 23,
e-mail: bootsmas@emro.who.int

In Beirut: Altaf MUSANI: Regional Adviser for the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean,
email: musania@emro.who.int