Israel rejects UN request for truce

Gov't says Hizbullah blocking humanitarian aid corridors to create crisis.

jan egeland 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
jan egeland 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel on Saturday rejected a request by the UN for a three-day cease-fire in Lebanon to get in supplies and allow civilians to leave the war zone. Avi Pazner, a government spokesman, said Israel already has opened safe corridors across Lebanon for such shipments and that Hizbullah guerrillas were blocking them to create a humanitarian crisis. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Saturday criticized Israel's rejection of the 72-hour halt to fighting. "I actively regret" the refusal, Douste-Blazy told a news conference in Paris. He said he would immediately renew France's appeal for such a temporary truce through the United Nations. On Friday, the UN humanitarian chief called Friday for a three-day truce. Jan Egeland told reporters that thousands of children, elderly and disabled had been stranded after more than two weeks of war, while supplies of food and medicines are dwindling. He said he hoped the three-day pause could be the start of a larger cessation of hostilities between the two sides. Egeland said that, for now, he would ask the Israelis and Lebanese "for at least a 72-hour start of the cessation of hostilities, so that we can evacuate wounded, evacuate children, evacuate the elderly and the disabled from the crossfire in southern Lebanon." He said that humanitarian workers were "stepping up" their work and, awaiting security guarantees and safe routes for convoys, will be able to provide 10,000 to 20,000 tons of food in Lebanon in the next month. "But is only the cessation of hostilities that will end the suffering of the civilian populations," Egeland said. He estimated that close to 600 Lebanese civilians have been killed in the fighting, a third of them children. The number could be higher, but a proper count is not possible with communications breached in many remote areas and those with heavy fighting. Lebanese authorities say that at least 437 Lebanese have been killed, including 382 civilians confirmed dead by the Health Ministry. In addition, 20 Lebanese soldiers and at least 35 Hizbullah guerrillas have been killed. The Lebanese health minister also says 58 others are known to be buried under the rubble of buildings and 150 more are missing and believed dead. Egeland mentioned the possibility of setting up a communication network "into the villages and population centers where we've basically lost contact." "There is something fundamentally wrong with a war where there are more dead children then armed men," he said. "It has to stop."