Echoing an earlier appeal from U.N. deputy humanitarian chief Margareta Wahlstrom, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Israel must immediately lift its air and sea blockade on Lebanon so hundreds of thousands of Lebanese can quickly receive aid that is desperately needed.

 

Walstrom referred to the enormous damage to roads and bridges leading to Southern Lebanon which she said, required the immediate lifting of the blockades.

In a report to the council late Friday on implementation of the U.N. resolution adopted a week ago to stop the fighting, Annan said the extensive damage "merits lifting the continuing sea and air blockade on as soon as possible."

"Despite significant progress within the first days of the cessation of hostilities in reaching people previously cut off from aid supplies, massive access problems remain the key obstacle to further accelerating the humanitarian response," he said.

Israel  imposed the blockades at the start of the conflict on July 12. Following Monday’s cessation of hostilities, Israeli army officials said they would maintain the air and sea blockade of to prevent arms from reaching Hezbullah.

Even though the Lebanese government issued warnings about the lack of transport and the danger of unexploded weapons, Wahlstrom said an estimated 200,000 people have returned to the heavily damaged southern suburbs of Beirut and another 200,000 have returned to southern .

On the positive side, she said, the cessation of hostilities has allowed the humanitarian community to get to many of the worst affected areas in the south and the Bekaa valley.

Relief from the blockade is also urgently needed in order to clean up the oil slick which has engulfed the Lebanese coast and other parts of the Mediterranean. The spill was caused by an Israeli strike on an electric plant.

 The European Union has agreed to coordinate efforts to contain the massive oil spill off the coast of in an effort to prevent an environmental disaster in the Mediterranean Ocean.

An Israeli bomb attack four weeks ago on the Lebanese Jiyeh electric plant has polluted some 140 kilometers (87 miles) of the Lebanese coast, spread north into Syrian waters and has the potential to reach the coasts of Cyprus and Turkey, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

 If all the heavy fuel from the damaged facility’s storage tanks located some 50 km south of Beirut were to seep into the sea, officials said, the environmental fallout could rival the Exxon Valdez spill when 37,000 tons of oil devastated Alaska‘s Prince William Sound.

 At a meeting Thursday with EU and the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) requested 50 million euros ($64 million) to contain the oil spill, adding that violence in the Middle East had kept them from being able to make an accurate assessment of cleanup costs.

 It has taken over four weeks to get an estimation of the damage. Hopefully, peace will permit a spill evaluation.

"Now that the bombs have stopped and the guns have silenced, we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally mobilize the support for an oil cleanup and restoration of the coastline," said Achim Steiner, the UNEP’s executive director.

 Israel agreed to allow international experts and cleanup crews access from the shore, although ‘s environment minister said it was still not allowing helicopters or other aircraft to assess the damage. This is delaying a more complete assessment.

Lebanon’s Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf told a news conference after the meeting. "The embargo has not totally been lifted, airspace and waters remain sealed, but they have free movement on the shore for the international assistance to go in."

Though an exact timetable cannot be set due to the precarious ceasefire in the region, a UN action plan envisions about 300 people working at 30 cleaning sites that would deal with the waste by either burning it in refineries or possibly using some in public works such as road construction.

 

 

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