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UNHCR says many Lebanese remain homeless after war

Written by: Staff
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BEIRUT, Aug 24 (Reuters) Most Lebanese displaced by the war have returned to their villages but many will remain homeless for some time because their houses are destroyed or littered with unexploded bombs, the UNHCR refugee agency said.

Today it also warned on Thursday of a possible food crisis leading up to winter because of the conflict's impact on local harvests.

Lebanon's government has said 97 per cent of the estimated 900,000-1 million people who fled fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas had returned to their towns following an Aug 14 truce.

The UNHCR said surveys of hard-hit areas in southern Lebanon, where many villages were severely damaged by Israeli ground and air attacks, show large numbers found their homes uninhabitable.

''Only 60-70 per cent have actually returned to their homes. The rest are staying with host families or in nearby villages,'' UNHCR spokeswoman Reem Alsalem said.

''The main problem is their houses are destroyed or it's too dangerous because of unexploded ordnance. I don't see any large changes in the situation any time soon. Cleaning and rebuilding takes time.'' UN explosive experts have confirmed 249 Israeli cluster bomb strikes, and unspent bomblets have killed eight and wounded at least 38 since the shooting stopped.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Israel of violating international law by targeting civilian areas. The Jewish state says its attacks were directed at stopping Hizbollah rocket attacks.

Israel said it has passed maps to the UN force UNIFIL which showed where its exploded ordnance might lie. ''We did this in an attempt to minimise casualties among the Lebanese population,'' an Israeli army spokesman said.

CRISIS STILL LOOMS The UNHCR said it delivered 200 tents, 2,500 blankets and pieces of plastic sheeting to Siddiqin which was almost completely destroyed during the war. It has done the same in Aita al-Shaab which was 90-95 percent flattened.

UN agencies also sent 27 trucks carrying food, water and other supplies out of Beirut to hard-hit areas in the south.

They unloaded around 100 tonnes of aid from a French ship and two planes from Amman, and expected a 10-truck convoy to arrive from Syria later in the day.

Alsalem said unexploded munitions and crops that were either destroyed by bombs or left untended during the war threatened to create a food crisis among people who depend heavily on home-grown produce to supplement their diets.

''Large harvests have been lost and they haven't been able to stockpile food... In the next few months, especially leading into winter, we will definitely have a food crisis if we don't continue delivering food,'' she said.

''There's also a large problem of cash. People aren't working so they can't buy food even if it is available in the shops.'' The five-week war claimed 1,200 lives, mostly civilians, in Lebanon while at least 157 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers, died.

REUTERS LL KN1547

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