|Donors promise $940 million to Beirut
|Officials at stockholm aid conference urge israelis to end blockade
Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has succeeded in securing more than $940 million from donor states in Stockholm, following a passionate plea to help Lebanon rebuild its people's homes and help a private sector which incurred heavy losses during the war with Israel.
Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson said the amount far exceeded the $500 million target for the donor conference in Stockholm. "The conference has thus met its objective with a wide margin," he said during a news conference following the meeting of 60 states.
Added to previous pledges and commitments for longer-term reconstruction projects, Eliasson said a total of $1.2 billion has been made available to rebuild Lebanon.
Siniora expressed his "great appreciation" to the donor countries after the conference, saying: "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 attacks that were carried out against them."
He said the conference was successful "not just in terms of show of support and solidarity in the speeches that have been made, but also in the pledges 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."
Earlier in the day, speaking before heads of state and representatives of 60 countries in the Swedish capital, Siniora also stressed that that none of the funds Lebanon receives will be distributed to Hizbullah.
Siniora called for urgent financial assistance to help rebuild destroyed infrastructure and restore the villages that were razed during the 34-day Israeli offensive.
"Lebanon, which only seven weeks ago was full of hope and promise, has been torn to shreds by destruction, displacement, dispossession, desolation and death. It has been launched back 15 years," Siniora said.
He said direct damage to infrastructure and indirect losses such as the loss of tourism amounted to billions of dollars. The government has previously put the figure at $3.6 billion.
Siniora said that if Israel did not withdraw from all its positions in Lebanon and unless the "humiliating" air and sea blockade on Lebanon is lifted, "the recovery process, including this conference today ... will be severely undermined."
The European Union has already pledged $54 million for Lebanon's short-term needs.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have pledged $500 million and $300 million respectively for reconstruction purposes.
The conference took place amid growing Western worries that cash handouts from Hizbullah to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the war with Israel will entrench the group's popularity.
But Siniora played down any involvement by Hizbullah in the rebuilding process from the funds raised in Stockholm.
"The conference is being called to assist the Lebanese government, all will be channeled through the government," he told a news conference. "This idea that it will be siphoned one way or another to Hizbullah is a fallacy."
Hizbullah has already started handing out cash to the residents of the southern suburbs and the South who lost their homes in the war. The money is aimed at allowing the residents to rent a home for one year until their original homes are rebuilt.
"If we are to have real peace and stability in the Middle East, the root causes of this war must be addressed," Siniora said.
He urged the UN Security Council to take a leading role to find lasting peace in the region, and called on Israel to recognize Palestinian statehood and "withdraw from all the Arab lands it occupies."
UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said international support for Leb-anon would boost the standing of the central government.
"If we, the international community, fail in supporting Lebanon now, we fail not just the brave Lebanese people but also their national aspiration for a stable, strong and democratic government that reaches, and supports, all its people throughout the country," he said.
Lebanese officials said the priority for spending was on 10,000 pre-fabricated homes to help some of the 1 million displaced people and make up a shortfall created by damage to 130,000 homes. Another goal was to remove unexploded ordnance, including thousands of cluster bombs.
The Daily Star