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French Version

Lebanon opens account to receive aid apyments

Saudi Arabia, kuwait pledge total of $70 million

The vast destruction in infrastructure and properties in Lebanon has prompted the Lebanese government to announce the opening of a special account to raise funds from the Arab countries and individuals to rebuild the areas, Finance Minister Jihad Azour said Sunday.

We will announce Tuesday the opening of a fundraising account for all the properties that were destroyed in Lebanon."

He added that Lebanese and Arabs can donate money directly to this fund.

Azour said it was difficult to assess the value of the material losses due to the continuing Israeli attacks on different targets in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pledged $70 million Sunday to help Lebanon after its premier said Israeli attacks turned the country into a disaster area.

Premier Fouad Siniora said late Saturday Beirut needed a comprehensive plan to rush aid into the country.

The official Saudi Press Agency said King Abdullah ordered the immediate transfer of $50 million "for the [Lebanese] premier to spend on emergency aid and basic services to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese."

It said the move was in response to Siniora's call.

The Cabinet of fellow Gulf Arab oil exporter Kuwait allocated $20 million "to provide urgent aid to brothers in Lebanon to help them in the face of this barbaric aggression and ease their suffering."

Israeli warplanes, warships and artillery have destroyed hundreds of properties across Lebanon since the fighting with Hizbullah started five days ago. Rafik Hariri International Airport, ports, bridges, highways, roads, hospitals and homes have come under direct Israeli fire.

The souther suburbs, a Shiite stronghold, was literally leveled to the ground following relentless Israeli bombardment.

Some economists fear that Lebanon may start rebuilding the entire infrastructure that was destroyed and may have to seek new loans from the donor states in the future.

Late Premier Rafik Hariri spent over $5 billion since 1992 to rebuild the infrastructure such as the airport, ports, new bridges, highways, hospitals and schools.

Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005, was compelled to borrow money form local banks at high interest rates to finance the reconstruction drive.

Azour said Lebanon will find a problem to raise funds for the reconstruction of all devastated areas "but the most important thing is that fighting should come to an end."

He added that the Finance Ministry so far has sufficient funds to meet the emergency needs of the Lebanese such as hospitalization and social relief.

"We have spent $500 million since the fighting started to cover the needs of the Lebanese," Azour said.

The president of the Council for Development and Reconstruction Fadel Shalak told the paper the government can easily obtain soft loans. "Rebuilding all the destroyed areas will not have an impact of the $40 billion public debt because the loans carry low interest rates."

Azour said as far as the economic reform plan is concerned, the government has to wait until the fighting ends to review a new plan that addresses the current problems. The Free Patriotic Movement has also set up an account where the public can contribute to help displaced victims of Israeli attacks: Societe Generale de Banque du Liban, Sin al-Fil, account number 001-004361 236-446-01-03.

Beirut 17-07-2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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