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Indian ship with rice in Lebanon

Indian ship brings rice to Lebanon

india Updated: Aug 02, 2006 03:20 IST

The Rajya Sabha's call for an end to violence in southern Lebanon might well fall on deaf ears but India did register its presence in the war-torn country on Tuesday.

At 10 a.m., the Indian naval ship INS Betwa docked in Beirut. Part of the effort to bring some relief to ravaged lives, it was carrying 65 tonnes aid, including rice, blankets and medicines.

Captain C. Murti, the ship's commander, said: "Our ship was initially deployed for evacuation missions. After having helped Indian and other nationals leave, we were still in Cyprus where a lot of relief material was piling up. The Indian government was asked by their Lebanese counterparts to help and here we are."

Murti said the ship had no trouble in coming through as they had liaised with Israeli Defence Forces ever since leaving Cyprus on Monday night.

Nengcha Lhovum, the Indian ambassador to Lebanon, said this would perhaps be the ship's last trip to Beirut before it joined the three others that were already on way to India after having helped evacuate Indian and other nationals.

But this will not be the last of Indian help for Lebanon. "The PM has already announced that India will offer $2.5 million worth of help to Lebanon and as soon as all the arrangements are made in New Delhi, more supplies will be flown in," she said.

Mohamed Mamlouq, Lebanese governmental representative and co-ordinator of international relief, was at the port to receive the ship and its supplies.

"More than helping in the material sense, the coming in of this Indian ship is also symbolic," he said.

"It's good to know that we still have friends who'll support us in times of strife"

Asked about the usefulness of the rapidly passing 48-hour ceasefire for the Lebanese people, Mamlouq said: "It has obviously helped a little but I wish that this had happened a lot earlier.”

“I had convoys waiting at the borders to come in with aid for a long while but because the lives and welfare of all the truck drivers could not be ensured, they had to turn back."

Mamlouq said contributions from private NGOs apart, the Lebanese government's relief committee had received about 3,000 tonnes worth of aid in the past few weeks.

But it was far from enough to help all refugees in Lebanon substantially, he said. Mamlouq believed around 8-10 lakh people had been displaced.

The INS Betwa arrived at a time when – despite a temporary cessation of air-strikes – Israel launched more severe ground offences in southern towns (like Aita al-Shaab) and was not showing any sign of slowing down.

Mamlouq had a simple plea: "Even if Israel doesn't agree to a ceasefire, I hope the UN does enough to ensure safe passage for relief workers."

The INS Betwa's consignment will be shared between the French organisation Medecins Dumonde and the Lebanese government's High Relief Commission.

After being sent to warehouses, the goods will be packed and distributed -- primarily to families taking shelter in public and private schools.