Hizbullah launches reconstruction jihad
Two weeks after Israeli bombs stopped falling on southern Beirut, Hizbullah nearly completes its survey of battered suburbs, far ahead of government efforts to assess damage inflicted by the month-long conflict; teams from group's reconstruction organization set up quarters in one of few Hizbullah buildings spared by Israeli bombardments
Two weeks after Israeli bombs stopped falling on southern Beirut, Hizbullah has nearly completed its survey of the battered suburbs, far ahead of government efforts to assess the damage inflicted by the month-long conflict.
Teams from the group's reconstruction organization, Jihad al-Bina, have set up quarters in one of the few Hizbullah buildings in Haret Hreik spared by the Israeli bombardments.
There they can be seen poring over maps divided into grids by red and green lines, indicating neighborhoods that have been either completely destroyed or only damaged.
"We have divided the southern suburb into 86 zones, and each has been entrusted to a team consisting of an engineer and three assistants in charge of evaluating the damage," said Ghanem Slim, who is coordinating the assessment effort.
Slim said the engineers have nearly completed their survey and have identified some 182 buildings with 4,000 apartments that were totally destroyed and another 192 buildings that were damaged.
Haret Hreik used to house Hizbullah's headquarters, and air raids targeted the suburb up to August 13, a day before a UN-sponsored ceasefire halted a widespread Israeli blitz against Lebanon.
According to Lebanese police, three waves of combat jets hit the area 33 times that day, smashing 16 buildings.
The neighborhood had already been pounded repeatedly during the first two weeks of fighting that erupted on July 12 after Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid.
"Next week we will start repairing the apartments that were damaged," Slim told AFP. "And we will do it in coordination with landlords and tenants."
Following the ceasefire that went into effect on August 14, Hizbullah moved quickly to compensate hundreds of families affected by the war, offering each USD 12,000 in cash to pay rent for one year and buy furniture.
An estimated 15,000 homes were destroyed by the Israeli raids across southern Lebanon.
In addition to compensating victims, Hizbullah also deployed dump-trucks and bulldozers to clear streets clogged by rubble, shattered glass and other debris.
In contrast, the government reacted only 10 days after the ceasefire went into effect, calling on people whose homes or businesses were destroyed or damaged to submit their requests for compensation.
The government has said it plans to begin a multi-billion-dollar reconstruction of Lebanon's damaged housing and other infrastructure next week, but Hizbullah's rush to help victims might have already eclipsed anything that the state has to offer.
However, the estimated USD 150 million already handed out by Hizbullah is widely believed to have come from Iran and has drawn criticism at home and abroad as an attempt to buy loyalty or exert political pressure.
In a clear reference to Hizbullah, France Friday urged the international community - particularly Gulf states - not to allow hard-line groups to monopolize aid efforts.
But the head of Jihad al-Bina, Kassem Alaeddin, dismissed these concerns, saying that Hizbullah's rush to offer aid was necessary in the face of government red tape which would delay relief for weeks.
"We are willing to let the government take over whenever it wants," he told AFP.
The Lebanese government's Council for Reconstruction and Development has estimated the material damage caused by the war at USD 3.6 billion.