Switzerland has received the go-ahead from the Lebanese government to provide emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the fighting.This content was published on July 25, 2006 - 21:45
In a first step, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) will be provided with essential medical and hygienic supplies, such as antibiotics, painkillers, toothbrushes and soap.
Following a meeting in Beirut with the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, a senior Swiss aid official, Toni Frisch, said a key goal was to ensure the chronically ill continued to receive care.
The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) also plans to build a camp in Beirut for tens of thousands of IDPs and provide supplies for the nearly 70,000 IDPs in the Chouf region in western Beirut.
Swiss aid workers in Lebanon said residents of Chouf were having to care for a large part of the population displaced by the heavy fighting in the south of the country between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Many have been put up in schools in the area since students are on summer break until mid-September. Families with up to 20 members are sheltering in small classrooms. Hotels, many of which are without water or electricity, are also taking in IDPs.
The SHA said seven tons of emergency aid had already been distributed to the needy in the southern town of Tyre, and on Wednesday supplies of mattresses, blankets, water and cooking utensils would be delivered.
Switzerland is also working closely with international organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP), UNRWA (United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees) as well as the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross.
The UN has called on donors to provide $150 million in emergency aid, enough to provide for 800,000 people over the next three months. Part of the aid is earmarked for Syria where an estimated 200,000 Lebanese have fled.
Beirut is believed to have enough food for two months, but the UN says the situation in the south is critical. The WFP is expected to send a first convoy carrying 125 tons of flour to Tyre on Wednesday.
The Swiss ambassador to Lebanon, François Barras, spoke on Tuesday of the "unbelievable destruction" in the country, where a quarter of the population have been forced to flee their homes.
Switzerland was able to evacuate another group of nationals on Tuesday. Twenty-six Swiss joined other foreigners leaving Lebanon on board a French-chartered Greek ferry headed for Cyprus.
According to the foreign ministry, all Swiss citizens wishing to be evacuated from Lebanon have left the country, apart from around 30 nationals still stuck in the south where the worst fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces has been taking place.
UN observers were able to evacuate on Tuesday 100 foreigners caught up in the fighting, including one Swiss family said the foreign ministry.
The other Swiss still unable to leave the area have been contacted by the Beirut embassy. The representation was closed on Tuesday after Israeli air attacks struck nearby, but was to reopen on Wednesday.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit has been working in Cyprus, Lebanon and Damascus since July 18.
Switzerland has contributed SFr200,000 to the Lebanese Health Ministry to pay for medicines, and has delivered 800kg of medical supplies to Beirut.
The Swiss-run ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) has made SFr1,5 million available to assist Lebanese and Palestinian victims.
International organisations say $300 million is needed for humanitarian assistance in Lebanon.
Around 390 people have been killed so far in the conflict, most of them civilians.
Israel launched its attacks on Lebanon on July 13 after the Islamic Hezbollah movement took two Israeli soldiers hostage.
Switzerland has criticised the Israeli offensive as "disproportionate" and has condemned the Hezbollah attacks as well.
Bern has called on both sides in the conflict to restrict attacks to military targets, respecting humanitarian law set down in the Geneva Conventions of which Switzerland is the depositary state
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