28 August 2006

Winning Hearts and Minds

Hezbollah winning battle to rebuild Lebanon
By David Enders
The Washington Times

EITA AL-SHAAB, Lebanon -- In this village near Lebanon's border with Israel, close to where Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two on July 12, almost all the houses have been damaged by Israeli shelling, air strikes or house-to-house fighting.

As Umm Ali shoveled glass and other debris from her living-room floor into a bucket, she said her family moved from room to room as different parts of the house were struck. The living room, now more of a porch, has one wall missing. The family of tobacco farmers also lost its crop.

"It's the same with every house. All houses are destroyed, every house. If not totally destroyed, they are damaged," she said. "We can't find a house to stay in. It is impossible to live in them. People are staying with their neighbors whenever there is a spot in a house."

It is estimated that 15,000 houses or apartments were destroyed across Lebanon during the monthlong hostilities and that 30,000 were damaged.

Still, Umm Ali remained undaunted.

"We will continue to sacrifice for the Sayyed," she said, referring to Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, using his religious title.

Over the weekend, Hezbollah began registering families for aid in Haret Hreik, a neighborhood in southern Beirut that housed Hezbollah offices and sustained severe damage. Bilal Naim, president of al-Mahdi Scouts, Hezbollah's youth organization, said that in Haret Hriek alone, 6,000 apartments were destroyed.

Hezbollah has been paying $12,000 in cash to cover a year's rent to families who apply -- and more if the family has more than eight members.

Hezbollah money might have come from Iran

A Western diplomat questioned on Monday whether Hezbollah could produce the amount of money it had promised -- estimated at $150 million to $180 million. The diplomat said the money Hezbollah was handing out came from Iran but offered no proof. Though Hezbollah receives money from Iran, many members of the group boast dual citizenships and collect money from inside Lebanon and from Lebanese supporters worldwide.

Hanady Salman, an editor at Al-Safir, one of the country's major newspapers, said that in addition to Hezbollah's rebuilding to strengthen its position in the country, Lebanese have been volunteering time and resources in the cleanup effort, saving the government as much as $100,000 a day.

"Hezbollah are doing a great job paying compensation and say they're getting lots of money from donations," Mr. Salman said. "Also, they have lots of people volunteering -- architects, civil engineers, people who just go there and offer to move the rubble. People who have trucks and are helping move the rubble and paying for their own petrol. We're witnessing something we've never witnessed before, this whole atmosphere of volunteering, donating, university students, housewives, Christians, Muslims."

The Lebanese state, which estimates the damage to its infrastructure at $3.5 billion, is planning its own reconstruction efforts but must wait for international donations to come through. But for now, Hezbollah remains the most direct source of help.

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