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More Than $940 Million Pledged at World Donors Conference,

Saniora Says: Israel Wiped Out 15 Years of Progress

 Retrieved from Naharnet on September 1, 2006


Retrieved from Annaharonline (AFP)

World donors on Thursday pledged more than US$940 million for early reconstruction efforts in Lebanon and called on Israel to lift its blockade of the country.

Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson said the amount far exceeded the $500 million target for the donors' conference in Stockholm. "The conference has thus met its objective with a wide margin," he said.


Adding previous pledges and commitments for longer-term reconstruction projects, Eliasson said a total of US$1.2 billion had been made available to rebuild Lebanon.


Prime Minister Fouad Saniora expressed his "great appreciation" to the donor countries.


"Lots of work has been done during the past week in order to preserve the dignity of the Lebanese, and in order to stop the aggression that was made against them," Saniora said.


He said the conference was successful "not just in terms of show of support of solidarity in the speeches that have been made, but also in the pledges that have been made, that show once again, that the Lebanese people are not alone."


A statement issued at the end of the conference called on Israel to end its air and sea blockade of Lebanon, saying it was "a major impediment to the early recovery process."


Israel has said it would only allow free movement after the U.N.-brokered cease-fire deal that halted the fighting takes full effect and peacekeepers are deployed.


Saniora on Thursday called on world donors to help rebuild his country, saying "Israel's deadly fighting machine" had wiped out 15 years of postwar development in little more than a month of cross-border violence.


About 60 governments and aid organizations met in Stockholm to help Lebanon rebuild roads, bridges and homes left shattered by the war.


Saniora firmly rejected suggestions that the aid money would trickle down to Hizbullah and strengthen the group's position in southern Lebanon.


In his opening speech, Saniora told delegates that the direct damage of the conflict was in the "billions of dollars," while the indirect cost including lost tourism and industry revenue would cost billions more.


"Moreover, Lebanon's well-known achievements in 15 years of postwar development have been wiped out in a matter of days by Israel's deadly military machine," Saniora said.


Early recovery efforts would focus on finding housing for displaced families, rebuilding infrastructure, improving social services, cleaning up an oil spill of Lebanon's coast and clearing unexploded bombs.


Some research has estimated up to 70% of Israeli bombs failed to explode initially.


The Lebanese report said more than 50 people had been killed by such munitions after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire and that more than 4,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance had been destroyed. It estimated US$4.1 million was needed to clear land mines, and unexploded cluster bombs.


Many delegates, with the notable exception of the United States, called on Israel to lift its sea, air and land blockade of Lebanon, which Saniora called "inhuman."


In a report to the conference, the Lebanese government projected that early recovery efforts would cost about US$540 million.


The US delegation at the conference reiterated Bush's pledge last week of $230 million. However, Randall Tobias, director of US foreign assistance, hinted the U.S. contribution would not be distributed through the recovery fund being set up by the Lebanese government.


Lebanese Economy Minister Sami Haddad said the most urgent need was 10,000 prefabricated houses for families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli bombing.


Saniora said a prisoner swap with Israel was being considered by his government but "nothing has materialized."


Aid money started to trickle in before the conference in the Swedish capital, with the EU offering US$54 million Wednesday and the Belgian government releasing a further US$3.85 million in aid for Lebanon, bringing its total to US$7 million.


France said it would give an additional US$26 million of which US$17 million would be immediately available. Other contributions included Sweden, US$20 million; Italy, US$38 million; the Netherlands, US$7.7 million and Japan, US$5 million.(AP)