BEIRUT, Aug 4 (Reuters): Israel's overnight bombing of highway bridges in northern Lebanon and strikes at a Hizbollah stronghold in south Beirut paralysed aid convoys Friday and relief workers warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Israeli jets destroyed three bridges on the main coastal highway linking Beirut to
Syria, stalling an eight-truck convoy carrying food, shelter material and other aid to the estimated 900,000 Lebanese displaced by the three-week-old war.
Astrid van Genderen Stort, senior information officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the bombing had shut down the major relief pipeline for supplies traveling to the hardest-hit areas in the south.
The bridge at Maameltein, just north of Beirut, was split along its centre by a huge crater which partially engulfed the crushed shell of a minivan. Further north another lay stretched out in the valley it once spanned.
The UNHCR was also forced to postpone trips around Beirut to assess the needs and deliver aid to up to 400,000 people living with host families or in schools and parks in the area.
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) called off planned convoys southwards to the port city of Tyre and Rashidiyeh after bombing in a southern Beirut suburb prevented drivers from reaching the convoys' launch point.
A third planned convoy carrying food, water and sanitary supplies to the city of Jezzine departed as planned but humanitarian workers said lack of access to hoards of refugees was deepening the humanitarian crisis.
UN agencies also warned a looming fuel shortage could bring electrical power plants, hospitals and water pumping stations to a halt in the coming days, threatening already poor sanitation among thousands living in crowded conditions and raising the risk of epidemics.
Meanehile, Israel pounded Hezbollah's southern Beirut strongholds with missiles early Friday and, in a sharp expansion of its bombing of Lebanon, blasted highway bridges for the first time in the Christian heartland north of the capital during morning rush hour.
Four civilians were killed and 10 wounded in the airstrikes on bridges north of Beirut early morning, the Lebanese Red Cross said. A Lebanese soldier was killed and two other soldiers were wounded along with four civilians in air raids near Beirut airport and the southern suburbs of the capital overnight, security officials and witnesses said.
Surprisingly, Israeli warplanes struck in the Christian areas north of Beirut where Hezbollah has no support and no presence.
Earlier, Three Israeli soldiers were killed and several wounded in combat in southern Lebanon Friday, the television channel Al- Arabiya reported.
An army spokeswoman said Israeli ground troops were operating around 20 border villages in south Lebanon in a bid to push Hezbollah fighters further north.
A Lebanese soldier was killed Friday when Israeli jets bombed a military position in Ouzai in the south of Beirut in an early morning raid, an army officer said.