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Trickle of Supplies Reaches Lebanon

August 27, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Hospitals dipped deep into emergency stockpiles, lines grew at gas stations and grocers complained of shortages of foreign goods Sunday as an Israeli air and sea blockade kept all but a trickle of supplies out of Lebanon.

Four shiploads of food from the United Nations and 9 Lebanese fuel tankers have entered Beirut’s port since Aug. 13 _ the eve of a cease-fire that ended 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah _ but all commercial sea traffic remains frozen.

Israel has blocked commercial cargo flights, letting about three planes carrying relief supplies land daily at the country’s only international airport, along with seven passenger flights, airport officials said.

In the port, cranes dangle in the same positions they were in when war broke out on July 12. Hundreds of steel shipping containers sit rusting in puddles along the bulkhead. Each day $1 million in shipping revenues is lost, said Antoine Constantine, an aide to the country’s public works and transportation minister, Mohammed Safadi.

``Everything’s halted and we had no `Plan B.′ I lose $5,000 every day this goes on,″ said Tarek Rida Said Basha, 40, who owns Orient Corp., an auto shipping company.

Israel has said it will not lift the embargo until U.N. peacekeepers and the Lebanese army take positions along the Syrian border to block arms shipments to Hezbollah from its two main supporters, Iran and Syria.

``It’s certainly affecting my business. All my suppliers are asking for cash now,″ said Ziad Abiaad, 40, who owns Super Tfouny Market in Beirut’s upscale Ashrafiya neighborhood. ``We’re digging into our reserves just to get things on the shelves.″

Hospitals that remained open through the war are reaching the end of their stockpiles.

``We can’t import all the medical supplies we need, because we can’t get commercial shipments. This has disrupted the natural flow of supplies and medicine to the country,″ said Dr. George Tomey, deputy president of the American University of Beirut, which runs one of the country’s leading hospitals.

At American University Hospital, which remained open during the 34-day bombardment, supplies were dwindling after more than six weeks of the blockade.

``Kidney dialysis patients need supplies _ liquids used to clean the blood, electrolytes and coil machines. Sometimes we get these from Europe but mostly from the States,″ Tomey said. ``Now nothing can be imported except through emergency shipments the government is getting, and we can only keep going like this for about a month more.″

Electricity remains cut in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Sahel General Hospital was having trouble obtaining generator fuel because of the blockade.

``Sometimes we buy fuel from the black market,″ one of the hospital’s administrators said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Only half of the building was usable, he said.

Israeli air raids shattered windows, destroyed sterilization machines and knocked out the hospital’s computer system _ forcing the facility to shut all but its emergency services on July 16, four days into the war, he said. It reopened on Aug. 21, a week after the cease-fire.

Lebanon’s high-end restaurants reported trouble finding delicacies from abroad.

``Precise kinds of cheeses from France and imported fish like salmon from Norway are impossible, and we’ve had to change the menu slightly,″ said Michel Abdelnour, manager of a French restaurant in Beirut. She didn’t want the restaurant’s name published for fear of losing more customers.

During the war, grocery stores had no customers, but now that clients are returning, food supplies are getting lower.

``In the war days we didn’t have bread and milk because the roads and factories were bombed, but now it’s specialty items we can’t get _ some kinds of chocolate, imported bottled water, cookies made in Malaysia,″ said Muriel El Khoury, 20, a cashier Super Tfouny Market.

Many residents lived through hard times during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 2000. But Tomey said the Israeli blockade was far worse that anything he has endured.

``Back then we had wiggle room, we could get things by land or sea, but this time it is very difficult,″ he said. ``This is a complete blockade _ among the hardest times I’ve ever witnessed.″

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