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French Version

Losses from strikes on Lebanese manufacturing at $150 million and counting

The relentless Israeli air strikes against some of Lebanon's industrial plants have caused losses of more than $150 million, and the figure may be much higher if industries in the South are included, a leading industrialist said on Tuesday.

"The losses are more than $150 million in the current book value and we are afraid the situation will get worse," Jacques Sarraf, a chemical plant owner and the former president of the industrial association, told The Daily Star.

More than a dozen factories in the Bekaa valley and other areas were hit by Israeli strikes in two weeks of bombing.

Among the factories that were hit and destroyed were the country's largest dairy farm, Liban Lait; a paper mill; a packaging firm and wood plant.

"I just want to know why these factories are being targeted by the Israelis," Sarraf said. "Why Liban Lait, which makes cheese for the United Nations in Lebanon?"

Liban Lait, which produces cheese, yogurt and labeneh, controls more than 50 percent of the Lebanese market.

Sarraf said that the one of the industries that was flattened by the raids was an Indian investment project.

Many industrialists strongly believe that the ostensible cause of the Israeli bombardment, the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by the militant group Hizbullah, was nothing more than an excuse to destroy the Lebanese economy because the economy poses a challenge to Israel.

Sarraf expressed fear that many small- and medium-sized industrial plants in South Lebanon may have been hit during the fighting.

"I know that there are some medium-sized plants in Sidon and Tyre. But we cannot tell for sure if they were hit," he said.

He added that some of the industrial plants closed temporarily due to power cuts and deteriorating security conditions.

After the end of the war in 1990, Lebanese investors injected billions of dollars to rebuild new industrial plants and rehabilitate the old ones.

There are no official figures on the contributions of the industrial sector to the country's GDP but Sarraf said that each year industrialists import more than $120 million of machinery.

Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese Industrialist Association (LIA), appealed in a statement to the press for an immediate cease-fire.

"I am worried that the Lebanese industry will collapse if the hostilities continue indefinitely. This Israeli aggression is against all laws and international conventions," Abboud said.

He added that the industrial sector employs thousands of people and this means that the livelihoods of their families are threatened if these factories are closed or destroyed.

Lebanese exports in 2005 reached more than $1.5 billion for the first time due to the free-trade agreements with the European Union.

But local manufacturers complained in the past about the high cost of production and fierce competition from the Arab countries and Asia.

Industrialists said that the Israeli attacks may increase the prices of fuel oil and gasoline in the long run, creating an additional burden on the industries.

Wajih al-Bezri, the deputy president of the LIA, said many factories will be compelled to lay off their workers soon.

"All the export routes for the Lebanese industries are totally cut off and this means that we have no place to sell our goods," Bezri said. The Israeli forces have sealed off Lebanon from the air, ground and sea.

Beirut 26-07-2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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