How Israeli bureacracy held up Red Cross supplies for west Beirut
Beirut — Israeli bureaucracy -- not Israeli bombardment -- is the greater hindrance to the International Committee of the Red Cross in west Beirut.
Red Cross information spokesman Jean-Jacques Kurz says that Israeli restoration of normal water and electricity supplies to the west side would do far more toward stabilizing the situation for the civilian population than truckloads of food and medicine.
On Aug. 6, ICRC vice-president Harald Huber and ICRC deputy head of operations Michel Conbers met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.
They ''agreed in principle'' to allow the ICRC to ferry food and medicine to the estimated 500,000 residents of the west, Mr. Kurz said.
The next day, Aug. 7, a convoy of five trucks rolled into west Beirut carrying 6.5 tons of baby milk, 7 tons of medical supplies, and 2,250 ''family kits,'' which have basic foodstuffs for a family of six for two weeks.
But on Aug. 9 when ICRC representative John Di Salis went to get the necesary papers for another convoy, he was told he could no longer get them at the Israeli Command Center at Baabda, just above east Beirut, Mr. Kurz said.
Mr. Di Salis was sent to Bhamdoun, about seven miles from Baabda as the crow flies. Kurz said that after an hour and a half at Bhamdoun and one radio call, Di Salis was told to return the next day, Aug. 10.
Di Salis had spent five hours searching for permission to start the food and medicine convoy, Kurz said.
Another ICRC delgate returned to Bhamdoun the next day and was told he had to go to Baabda. After seven trips back and forth between the two villages, that ICRC representative was informed only one man, who was Israeli, could sign the paper, Kurz said. He added that the man who could sign ''was absolutely untraceable.''
The ICRC refused to identify the Israeli, but other sources involved in relief work said his name was ''Brigadier Amos.''
The shipment did cross to west Beirut but without the proper paper. ''The ICRC delegate found an Israeli lieutenant in charge of Lebanese civilian affairs who gave him a paper,'' Kurz said.
The Israeli soldier at the Beirut Port checkpoint honored the paper Tuesday but not Wednesday.
Tuesday the ICRC brought in 10 tons of blood, more family kits, and two trucks with hospital equipment to set up another field hospital.
Wednesday a convoy of five trucks tried to go to west Beirut the same way, bringing 43 tons of supplies including baby milk, hospital beds, and flour.
The trucks started through the port during an Israeli air raid and found that the soldier at the checkpoint was no longer willing to shoulder the responsibility.
As a result, Kurz said, the ICRC has sent a message to its headquarters in Geneva to explain its predicament.
Now only 12 of west Beirut's 17 hospitals and emergency centers are operating , Kurz said. Half of those have been hit by shellfire.
''The increasing number of wounded civilians and a present lack of sufficient local medical personnel has led the ICRC to decide to set up its own emergency field hospital at the Hotel Bristol,'' said Di Salis.
The Bristol has already been hit by an Israeli phosphorous shell, but the ICRC is setting up 60 beds and two operating rooms in its underground ballroom.
''As of Aug. 6, there were 130 beds available in west Beirut out of a total of about 1,400,'' Kurz said.
Kurz pointed out that Lebanon's health services have always been private and not well suited to coping with the situation.
The majority of the doctors and nurses working in the city have fled.
For example, at the Islamic Home for the Handicapped only 15 out of 200 staff members remain. It has been repeatedly shelled.
Several of the retarded children have died of starvation for lack of someone who has the time to feed them properly.
Berbir Hospital is now just an underground dormitory with generators churning away to give the few patients air.
The city's best hospital, the American University Hospital, on bad days turns away people - often choosing only those who look salvageable, the staff admits.
Despite the desperate state of medical facilities, Kurz maintains that normal water and electricity are more important than the other supplies.
''Without electricity and fuel for generators, we are unable to keep blood and drugs,'' he said.
The water came back last Saturday, Aug. 7. But it creates another problem because often the water is polluted by dirt or ruptured sewage pipes, Kurz said.
''People can keep cleaner but it could be dangerous,'' he said.
However, the water has not reached most neighborhoods because of the lack of electricity to pump it and broken water mains. Much of the precious liquid simply gushes through the capital's rubble-filled streets.