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Monday, November 19, 2007

Hezbullah's opponents look the other way while it uses aid money to rebuild Dahiyeh

The western-backed government of Fouad Saniora and several other governments that gave it money to rebuild South Beirut are looking the other way while Hezbullah takes the money and rebuilds the bombed-out Dahiyeh. That's the upshot of a report from al-AP that indicates that Lebanese families are taking the compensation money that they are receiving from Saniora's government - $53,000 per family - and giving it to Hezbullah to do the work.
Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government has been distributing the funds as compensation to families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli bombardment so they can build anew.

But in south Beirut, long a Hezbollah stronghold, most of the families have promised to give their compensation — about $53,000 each — to the militant group to redevelop the devastated area in an ambitious plan likely to bolster Hezbollah's standing.

The money going into the government's family compensation program comes mainly from Islamic and Arab nations, chief among them Saudi Arabia — a strong supporter of Saniora and opponent of Hezbollah — which has given $570 million, said Sanaa al-Jack, government spokeswoman for relief and reconstruction projects.

It does not appear money from the United States and the European Union was ending up in the hands of Hezbollah, an ally of Iran and Syria which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington. Al-Jack said the American and EU donations — about $140 million and $110 million promised, respectively — were not earmarked for family compensation but for infrastructure and technical help.

Asked if U.S. money could be going to Hezbollah's rebuilding project, a U.S. Embassy official in Beirut said, "I would doubt it." The official, who insisted on anonymity under embassy rules, said U.S. funds were given for specific projects and would be carefully monitored.

The European Union has not yet sent any reconstruction aid, waiting for a damage assessment by officials from the U.N., World Bank and Lebanese government, said Christiane Hohmann, a European Commission spokeswoman.
I guess this should not be a surprise to most of my readers since I reported this was happening more than a year ago.
It's been two months since the war in Lebanon ended, and Fouad Siniora's government has not yet gotten its act together to start rebuilding homes destroyed in the war. Today's London Sunday Telegraph reports that - no surprises here - Hezbullah has stepped right into the vacuum:
Within hours of the August ceasefire, the group's reconstruction wing, Jihad al-Binaa ("Holy struggle for construction"), began distributing aid and American dollars to displaced civilians.

Regardless of religious or political affiliation, residents whose homes had been destroyed were given up to £6,500 to find alternative accommodation.

Mr Siniora's government announced last week details of its compensation package, promising 80 million Lebanese pounds (£30,000) per household. But the delay has set back the battle for hearts and minds.

The southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh has become a hive of activity as labourers from Jihad al-Binaa busy themselves in the new "struggle". In homage to their benefactors, residents have draped Hezbollah's yellow flags around the neighbourhood.
But the amazing part of this story is the Saudi non-reaction given that the Saudis supposedly hate and fear Hezbullah.
A Saudi Foreign Ministry official said his country has "nothing to do with how the government distributes the money." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Meanwhile, running like a well-oiled machine, Hezbullah wins the hearts and minds of the Lebanese people:
The $370 million campaign — Lebanon's biggest construction project since downtown Beirut was rebuilt in the 1990s following the country's 15-year civil war — is being planned and directed by "Waad," a branch of Hezbollah [link in Arabic. CiJ]. It aims to transform the district, home to hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Shiite Muslims.

Waad has been contracted by families to rebuild 213 of the district's 300 destroyed buildings, including 3,700 units in apartment buildings as well as shops, offices, warehouses and schools, said Hassan Jishi, Waad's general manager.

It also will improve roads and build parking lots and gardens. The remaining 87 destroyed buildings are being rebuilt by individual owners who decided not to participate with Waad.

Any costs not covered by the families' compensation money will be paid by Hezbollah's main construction arm, which is also renovating hundreds of damaged buildings in Dahiyeh, Jishi said. Hezbollah is known to have received billions of dollars from Iran since its founding in the 1980s.

One Dahiyeh resident, Ahmad Khalil, said the residents of his nine-story apartment building voted on whether to give their money to Waad to rebuild their home, which was destroyed along with the nearby Hezbollah's headquarters complex. Two-thirds of the families voted for Waad, so all went along with the decision.

"Our building was destroyed because Hezbollah's headquarters were close to us, so for sure they (Hezbollah) will rebuild," said Khalil, a 42-year-old father of two who has been renting an apartment elsewhere in Beirut, using money given by Hezbollah.

Immediately after the war, Hezbollah gave every family whose home was destroyed $12,000 to rent an apartment until their homes were rebuilt.

The name "Waad" — Arabic for "Promise" — refers to a television address made by Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah hours after the war ended on Aug. 14, 2006. Nasrallah declared victory and promised Hezbollah would help the Lebanese rebuild, saying, "Completing the victory can be done with reconstruction."
But Lebanon isn't Hezbullah and Hezbullah isn't Lebanon.



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