Creating people's geographies
Jonathan Steele in Tyre
With food and fuel stocks running perilously low, local and international aid officials in this frontline town were preparing yesterday for a siege.Israel has warned everyone south of Lebanon’s Litani river to move north. Some Israeli commanders have said their ground troops may move up to the river in the coming days to hold a huge swath of southern Lebanon until an international force arrives.
Tyre is the largest city south of the Litani. Its prewar population has shrunk dramatically as people have fled to Sidon and Beirut. Civilians escaping from shattered villages across south Lebanon pause briefly in Tyre before fleeing further north.
“Only 25,000 Lebanese are left in the city. We received over 30,000 displaced people, but when they found there was no food, they left,” said Hassan Dbouk, a local councillor who is in charge of electricity and water supplies. “We were sent food portions for 3,500 families in the first 10 days. That has been handed out. It contains enough sugar, rice, and other staples for about four days.”
The town’s water pumping station is operating at 60% capacity. Electricity lines lie in ruins, and the town no longer gets power from the national grid. Fuel for a small power station will run out in four days unless new stocks can be brought in.
Workers hired by the International Committee of the Red Cross were racing against the clock yesterday to unload food parcels from a chartered freighter. All marine traffic requires clearance from Israel and ships have to leave by 5.30pm. The previous ship sailed back to Cyprus with some of its cargo still on board because it failed to meet the deadline.
Clearance is also needed for land convoys. The biggest problem is getting food and other supplies to inland villages.
The ICRC has taken over one petrol station in Tyre, covering it with Red Cross flags, to maintain supplies exclusively to ambulances and hospitals. But it is worried that prolonged military activity might deprive people of food and water, commodities it says they are entitled to under the Geneva convention.