By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff
Friday, September 14, 2007
BEIRUT: The UN Relief and Works Agency “cannot last much longer” caring for the more than 31,000 Palestinians displaced from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp unless donors answer UNRWA’s Monday appeal for $55 million in emergency relief, UNRWA public information officer Hoda Samra Souaiby said Thursday.
The agency will not cease providing services to the tens of thousands of evacuees living in schools in the Beddawi refugee camp and the village of Beddawi near Nahr al-Bared, but the crisis is acute, she added.
“We’re not going to stop tomorrow, but it’s urgent,” she told The Daily Star. “It’s pressing. The needs are great.”
UNRWA and the Lebanese government appealed on Monday for $55 million in emergency relief to see the evacuees through August 2008. While donors pledged some $15 million at the donor conference, led by a US promise to deliver $10 million, no money has arrived, Souaiby said.
She did express confidence that the international community would answer the plea for funding, as it did during the Nahr al-Bared conflict when UNRWA asked donors for $11.7 million for the displaced and received more than the requested amount.
“The donors did not fail us before, and I think they will not fail us this time,” Souaiby said.
Once the money arrives, UNRWA will focus foremost on easing the housing crisis for the displaced, Souaiby said. UNRWA has classified from 2,500-3,000 families of evacuees as urgently needing accommodation assistance, among them the thousands staying in schools in the Beddawi camp and the village of Beddawi. UNRWA has acquired land around the Nahr al-Bared camp which should suffice to build temporary housing for people urgently in need of assistance, she added.
In other news related to the Nahr al-Bared crisis, the security services and judiciary will release at the September 24 Cabinet session the results of their investigations into the escape and false identification of Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said late Wednesday.
Aridi acknowledged that many questions remained unanswered about Abssi, from the pressing mystery of his whereabouts to his escape from the Nahr al-Bared camp to why his wife and daughter identified the corpse of another man as Abssi.
Palestinian clerics also positively identified as Abssi the body of a man whose DNA failed to match those of Abssi’s children and his brother. The judiciary will make the final decision on whether to charge Abssi’s family and the clerics for misleading investigators, but Aridi said the gravity of the Nahr al-Bared conflict meant the state would show little leniency to those in league with Fatah al-Islam.
“We will not be easy on them, whether the wife or any cleric or any citizen of any nationality who might have participated in misguiding the investigation or violated the law in any way,” said Aridi.
Abssi, a Jericho-born Palestinian who grew up in Jordan, slipped out of the camp late on September 1, a few hours before the few dozen Fatah al-Islam militants remaining in the camp launched a failed breakout attempt, said a report by State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza.
A Lebanese Army soldier died Thursday from wounds received during the conflict, raising the official army count of troops killed to 167, said an army source speaking on condition of anonymity. The army killed more than 220 militants and captured more than 200 during the three-month battle.
In the Nahr al-Bared camp Thursday, army sappers continued disposing of booby traps and land mines left behind by Fatah al-Islam, said the source, adding that he did not know how much longer clearing the camp of leftover explosives would take nor did the army have a timeframe for completing the work.
Soldiers outside the camp also kept up their search for fugitive members of Fatah al-Islam, aided by helicopters providing aerial reconnaissance, the source added.
Also Thursday, investigators questioned 16 people who had been arrested in connection with Fatah al-Islam, said a report from the National News Agency. Mirza also met with a delegation from the League of Palestinian Clerics to discuss the legal status of the Fatah al-Islam gunmen’s wives and children staying in the Al-Arqum Mosque in Sidon, said a judicial source.
The army’s fight against Fatah al-Islam has drawn flocks of military officers and intelligence personnel from the Arab world to Lebanon’s Defense Ministry in recent days, as the security officials seek to learn from the army’s experience battling a well-trained and well-armed Islamist group in an urban setting, said a report from the Central News Agency. – With agencies