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Nations' Pledges to Rebuild Lebanon Exceed Expectations

The U.S. and others offer nearly $1 billion at donors' conference.

September 01, 2006|From the Associated Press

STOCKHOLM — The United States, Europe and Persian Gulf states pledged nearly $1 billion Thursday to help Lebanon recover from a crippling war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, almost doubling the amount sought at an international donors' conference.

Donors who had gathered for the conference in Stockholm pledged $940 million, far surpassing the $500-million target. The money was earmarked for rebuilding infrastructure, clearing unexploded bombs and restoring social services. Another donors' conference is planned later this year.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told delegates that damage resulting directly from the conflict was in the "billions of dollars" and that indirect costs, including lost tourism and industry revenue, would be billions more.

Organizers hailed the bigger-than-expected contributions as a show of strength for nations seeking to counter the influence of Hezbollah in rebuilding roads, homes and lives after the 34-day war.

The Shiite Muslim group is offering hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, most of it apparently promised by Iran.

Critics said it would be difficult to sidestep Hezbollah in delivering aid.

"I don't think this will help Lebanon in the long term," said Middle East expert Magnus Norell of the Swedish Defense Research Agency. "There is only one actor in southern Lebanon that can handle aid, and that's Hezbollah."

Siniora praised donors for their generosity and rejected suggestions that the aid would be a boost to Hezbollah, calling them "entirely, completely a fallacy."

Major donations included $300 million from Qatar, $175 million from the United States, and the European Union's pledge of $54 million. The U.S. figure was part of the $230 million President Bush offered last week, organizers said.

In southern Lebanon, the Israeli army turned over a small border area to Lebanese and foreign troops, a symbolic move paving the way for United Nations peacekeepers.

Israel's army withdrew from a 12-square-mile area near the Israeli town of Metulla, putting Lebanese and U.N. troops in control of a section of the border for the first time since the early 1980s, the Israeli military said. Hezbollah had in effect run south Lebanon before the war.

Israel sent as many as 30,000 soldiers into Lebanon and occupied a zone extending about 10 miles north from the border after Hezbollah's July 12 kidnapping of two Israeli reservists.

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