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French Version

Israeli bombardment leaves telecom infrastructure in tatters

Lebanon's mobile networks and satellite antennas are being targeted by Israeli warplanes, causing at least $10 to $15 million in material damage and a drop in the revenues of the telecom sector, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade said on Sunday.

"We are still assessing the damages but we estimate the material losses are close to $15 million so far," Hamade told The Daily Star over the telephone.

Israeli warplanes have hit transmitters, relay stations and satellite stations in Beirut, the South, the North and the Bekaa Valley since the war started 12 days ago.

Israeli warplanes bombarded a satellite and antenna station in Kesrouan on Saturday, killing an employee of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation and destroying the television antenna.

The strikes targeted transmission towers for a number of private television stations, including LBCI and Future, as well as a number of private radios in Fatqa and further up on mount Sannine, police said.

In Fatqa, television footage showed a cloud of thick black smoke billowing into the sky from the towers which were engulfed in flames. A truck was also seen burning.

Transmission towers for television stations, including Hizbullah's Al-Manar and the privately run New TV, as well as mobile telephone networks were also destroyed in Terbol in Nor-thern Lebanon, police added.

Observers say that the Israeli forces want to cut all communication links between Lebanon and the outside world and to sever mobile communication lines among the Lebanese.

Hamade said teams from the ministry are repairing some of the damage in different areas.

But the minister declined to give more details about the repairs in some areas, fearing that the Israeli forces may target these stations and satellites.

"I don't want to identify the areas in which technical teams are working because the Israelis might bombard them," he said.

Some Lebanese said the mobile lines in some parts of the North and South of the country were inoperative due to the intense bombardment.

Hamade said that the Telecommunication Ministry has instructed the two mobile operators in Lebanon, MTC Touch and Alfa, to extend the duration of the pre-paid cards to ease the pressure on residents.

"This will of course affect the revenues from telecoms, which is the main source of income for the government."

Total revenues from the telecom sector are more than $1.3 billion a year, including the mobile and land-line networks.

But the minister said all the land-line services are still intact.

The government was hoping to privatize the telecom sector this year as part of efforts to reduce the $40 billion public debt.

Beirut 24-07-2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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