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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel brought a UN observer into an IDF control room Saturday to help oversee the transfer of aid to south Lebanon, the army said, amid growing criticism that Israel was not doing enough to ensure the protection of civilians trapped in the war zone.
Aid workers in Lebanon have complained that it was not safe to travel south under Israel's forceful aerial bombardment, and civilians take their chances of being hit when they try to escape the area.
Earlier Saturday, Israel rejected a UN proposal to observe a three-day cease-fire so civilians could get out, but said the new policy of installing an observer was to make sure that aid could get in.
"Ultimately, Israel does not see the Lebanese people as the enemy, and we want to make sure that aid gets in to the people who need it," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
Regev said a senior UN observer was already installed in an army control room to help coordinate relief efforts.
"The (IDF) is committed to helping aid convoys to get in," Regev said.
In the Lebanese capital of Beirut, humanitarian aid has begun to pile up, with many aid groups saying it was too risky to travel under IDF bombardment and bring medicine, food, water and fuel to the south.
IAF air strikes have exploded near some of the truck convoys that were making their way to south Lebanon, officials from the International Red Cross, UN and other agencies said. Earlier in the week, four unarmed UN peacekeepers were killed, apparently by an errant IDF strike.
The installation of a UN observer with IDF decision-makers is meant to keep things like that from happening again, and could help deflect criticism that Israel was not doing enough to ensure that Lebanese civilians were protected.
The UN observer will oversee and help coordinate the passage of convoys from Beirut International Airport and from the Lebanese seaports of Tyre and Sidon to areas in the south, the army said.
Col. Eitan Avraham, one of the army officers in the situation room, said preference is given to getting the convoys through, even at the expense of the army's operational needs. Once a foreign embassy or aid group requests to get a convoy through, the war room gets a description, including number of vehicles, type of flags or sheets on the roof, he said.
He said some 30 convoys were allowed safe passage on Saturday.
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner had earlier blamed Hizbullah for blocking aid convoys, saying the group was trying to deliberately create a humanitarian crisis that they could blame on Israel.
That comment was immediately rejected by the top UN humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, Mona Hammam. She said convoys had so far met "no problems" from Hizbullah.
After an aid convoy was hit in south Lebanon on Friday, IDF spokesman Jacob Dallal told The Associated Press that Israel was committed to the safe passage of convoys, but said they must be coordinated in advance.
He did not elaborate on precautions normal civilians should take, except to say, "they should travel during daylight, they should travel together."
Civilians in southern Lebanon have been living under fear of being attacked from the air since Israel's offensive in Lebanon began more than two weeks ago, and have recently taken to traveling in large convoys as they try to escape to points farther north.